Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Vanni death toll: Shocking discrepancy in UN reports

Any harm in Sri Lanka seeking reappraisal of Geneva Resolution?



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Lord Naseby recently took up Geneva Resolution 30/1(Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka) with the UNSG Antonio Guterres as Sri Lanka struggled to cope up with the Oct 12, 2017, revelations in the House of Lords, pertaining to the war against the LTTE.

The combined armed forces brought the war to a successful conclusion on the morning of May 19, 2009.

In the wake of the UK disclosure, Sri Lanka should have immediately called for a thorough reappraisal of the controversial process, leading up to Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka. The Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted the resolution on Oct 1, 2015. Instead, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government made a pathetic effort to distance itself from the Naseby declarations that 40,000 civilians didn’t perish on the Vanni front and the allegation that the then government purposely targeted civilians.

The first government response to Lord Naseby’s Oct 12, 2017, assertions was obtained by the writer, by way of a response from the Foreign Ministry. Having callously dismissed Lord Naseby’s statement, the Foreign Ministry issued a communique clarifying Sri Lanka’s stand. A few weeks later, co-cabinet spokesperson and Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, acknowledged that the issue hadn’t been at least taken up at the cabinet meeting chaired by President Maithripala Sirisena. Jayasekera made the shocking disclosure in response to a query posed by the writer at the post-cabinet media briefing at the Government Information Department.

Lord Naseby’s assertions were largely based on wartime UK Defence Attache, based in Colombo, Colonel Anton Gash. It would be pertinent to examine the circumstances under which the Guterres’s predecessor South Korean Ban Ki-moon set the stage for persecution of Sri Lanka. Against the backdrop of Lord Naseby disputing the March 2011 UN assertion that 40,000 civilians had been killed, a thorough inquiry is required on the procedure adopted by UNSG Panel of Experts’ (PoE) to gather so called war crimes evidence.

Lord Naseby forwarded the entire set of papers, consisting of the Hansard transcript of the Oct 12, 2017 debate, he had initiated, copies of the heavily redacted pages of Col Gash’s wartime dispatches from Colombo, his interpretation of the un-redacted parts and the substantial corroborative evidence from many other sources to Guterres, the Human Rights team at the UNHRC in Geneva, namely the High Commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, and the nine UN Special Procedures mandate holders.

Former Prime Minister (1995-2002) of Portugal, Guterres succeed Ban Ki-moon on January 1, 2017.

As the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), for a decade, from June 2005, Guterres must have been fully aware of the Sri Lanka crisis. Especially as the UNHCR, he would have certainly received reports pertaining to Eelam War IV (Aug 2006-May 2009) with the focus on the displacement of almost the entire Vanni population. Post-war Sri Lanka is lucky to have a former UNHCR as the UN Secretary General.

A Europe-based good friend of mine who had been extremely helpful in my endeavors over the years suggested the urgent requirement to remind the forgetful Sri Lankans of PoE project with the focus on evidence-gathering mechanism. A real patriot, though being a foreign passport holder, he had thrown his weight behind The Island efforts without expecting anything in return. Such support should be studied against the backdrop of the previous government squandering millions of US dollars in taxpayers’ money to promote Sri Lanka in the US.

The current administration’s failure to inquire into such payments is inexcusable and strange.

Gash vs PoE ‘sources’

Having accused Sri Lanka of indiscriminately killing, the PoE struggled to gather evidence. The PoE, based at the UN Secretariat (Library Building L-330 L) New York, found it extremely difficult to gather a substantial number of complaints/submissions, in respect of accusations, before the expiry of Dec 15, 2010, deadline.

The PoE posted a high profile notice on UN’s website, on Oct 27, 2010, seeking evidence against the Sri Lankan political leadership and the armed forces. The PoE made its move clear after having informed the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka at the UN. The UN posting was accessible to the entire world, including those living in the Northern and Eastern regions of Sri Lanka.

Much to the disappointment of the PoE, comprising former Indonesian Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, US attorney-at-law Steven R Ratner and South African NGO guru Yasmin Sooka, the UN didn’t receive the expected response. Shocking absence of complaints could have had a devastating impact on the project meant to bring war crimes accusations against Sri Lanka. Despicable UN effort should be examined against the backdrop of war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa securing a second term, in January 2010. For want of sufficient number of submissions, the PoE had no option but to extend the Dec 15, 2010, deadline to Dec 31, 2010.

The Rajapaksa administration never referred to the UN process. The External Affairs Ministry remained silent. The Rajapaksa’s refusal to cooperate with the PoE has been advantageous to those who had been propagating lies at the expense of both political and military leaderships. Having been jolted by the discouraging response, Diaspora and various other interested parties sought to inspire Tamils to make submissions. They worked overtime to achieve their objective.

The Center for War Victims and Human Rights spearheaded the effort by making a public appeal for submissions.

Let me examine how the Center for War Victims and Human Rights had collected some of its unsubstantiated information. Those wanting to contribute to an international war crimes probe had an opportunity to choose from over two dozen sample letters made available online by the Center for War Victims and Human Rights. The civil society group, while making available 25 samples online, urged those interested in joining the campaign to fill an online petition in case of their inability to write on their own. (How Moon panel gathered ‘war crimes ‘info revealed—The Island April 21, 2012).

Let me reproduce one such online letter:

To: Mr. Marzuki Darusman, Chairman

To: Mr. Steven Ratner, Panel Member

To: Ms. Yasmin Sooka, Panel Member

Re: Justice delayed itself considered justice denied and it is necessary to reaffirm the international community’s commitment to the principle of accountability on serious violations of international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka.

Arundhati Roy, the acclaimed Indian writer and activist who focuses on issues related to social justice and economic inequality, also won the Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel, The God of Small Things. For her work as an activist she received the Cultural Freedom Prize awarded by the Lannan Foundation in 2002. She mentioned last year’s war was not just a war of the Sri Lankans against the Tamil people.

"That was a corporate war. All the large Indian companies are now heading to Sri Lanka to make more money," said Arundhati Roy, while speaking at a Chennai convention. She has also voiced her opposition openly on many occasions, condemning India’s silence on the humanitarian tragedy in Sri Lanka, and calling the war "a racist war on Tamils." This should be considered as ‘war crimes’, ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘genocide’ against Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka and impartially investigated by the independent international body and bring justice to the victims as justice delayed itself considered justice denied.

Yours truly,

Your Name, Contact Postal Address with the Residing country.

Can there be anything as ridiculous as someone demanding war crimes probe on the basis of Arundhati Roy’s accusation? However, the writer of that particular letter refrained from mentioning Indian intervention here in the 80s.

The Remaining 24 online samples can also be accessed. The writer brought Center for War Victims and Human Rights project to the then government’s notice. Unfortunately, the previous government lacked the basic strategy to counter the UN project. But, in spite of their strenuous efforts, the PoE could manage to secure approximately 4,000 submissions from about 2,300 persons (PoE report paragraph 17). It would be important to keep in mind that none of those who had submitted online complaints were summoned by the PoE for examinations. Having accused Sri Lanka of war crimes with the massacre of 40,000 being the primary charge, the PoE ruled that submissions couldn’t be examined under any circumstances for a period of 20 years. The PoE declared that even after the completion of the mandatory 20 years, further retention or release should be subjected to what it called declassification review (PoE report paragraph 20).

UN on confidentially clause

The Rajapaksa administration acted irresponsibly. Those who had been tasked with countering Western propaganda didn’t even bother at least to peruse the PoE report. The External Affairs Ministry as well as the Justice Ministry pathetically had failed in their responsibilities. The Defence Ministry, too, ignored the pivotal importance of a thorough study even after Colombo-based wartime US Defence Advisor Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith, in June 2011, publicly questioned the very basis of accusations made against the Sri Lankan military. The previous government never realized the importance of the US military official’s statement, made over two years, after the conclusion of the war, and two months, after the PoE report. The US official wouldn’t have shielded Sri Lanka if he had an iota of suspicion as regards the conduct of the military.

Obviously, imposition of confidentially clause pertaining to PoE records was meant to protect anti-Sri Lanka operation.

When the writer raised the issue with UN as well as UNDP Resident Representative in Colombo, Subinay Nandy, whether the UN would do away with the confidentiality clause to facilitate the Geneva probe, undertaken in 2014, the Colombo mission issued the following statement after having consulted UN headquarters. The UN said: "The High Commissioner for Human Rights will now be making arrangements for a comprehensive investigation requested by the UNHRC and the issue of the confidentiality clause will need to be considered at a later stage," (UN to revive 20-year confidentiality clause ‘at a later stage’-The Island April 7, 2014).

The US, the British as well as the EU, too, in spite of their push for in international war crimes probe, ruled out the possibility of them calling for a review of the confidentiality clause (EU too, won’t call for review of 20-year UN confidentiality clause—The Island April 9, 2014).

The writer pointed out that Sri Lanka’s refusal to cooperate with the investigation undertaken by Geneva could be advantageous to those seeking a regime change here. Instead of blanket denial, the government should take tangible action to challenge the very basis of the PoE report as well as the lies propagated by the UK media outfit, Channel 4 News.

As The Island has asserted, the Geneva probe, spearheaded by Sandra Beidas, formerly of the Amnesty International, resulted in Sri Lanka being faulted on serious crimes that warranted immediate action. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in July 2014, declined to release the names of the investigation team tasked with probing the war crimes allegations, though Ms Sandra Beidas was named as its coordinator.

OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville said: "While we felt it is important to announce the coordinator of the investigation, OHCHR does not normally release details of the staff team working on any particular issue, and we will not be doing so in this case either. Again this is standard practice, whether it is an OHCHR-led investigation like this one, or an independent Commission of Inquiry to whom we loan staff."

At a crucial stage of the UN probe on Sri Lanka, Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, the then Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations in New York, succeeded Navi Pillay, on Sept 1, 2014.

The OHCHR’s refusal to divulge the identities of the investigation team members surprised many as Hussein’s predecessor Pillay assured Sri Lanka that a panel comprising Silvia Cartwright (former New Zealand HC judge), Asma Jahangir (former President of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association and of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan) and Martti Ahtisaari (former Finish President) would only play a supportive and advisory role to the investigation team and wouldn’t lead the investigation team.

Pillay said in her letter dated July 5, 2014: "Their purpose would be not only to provide expert advice and guidance to the investigation, but also to accompany the process and provide an independent verification of the investigation."

Colville’s statement that the names of the investigation team wouldn’t be divulged contradicted Pillay’s position. If Pillay intended to keep identities of the members secret, she wouldn’t have sought Sri Lanka’s permission for the investigators to undertake field visits between July and November, 2014. As Pillay had also called for the appointment of a high level GoSL representative to work with the investigating team, the decision against revealing the identities surprised many.

Wartime UN confidential report

Now that Lord Naseby has challenged the PoE report, wartime UN report that dealt with the Vanni war can help ascertain the ground situation.

Nothing can be as important as releasing a confidential war time dossier, prepared by the UN mission in Colombo, years before the Beidas led investigation. There cannot be a better ‘source’ than the UN report that dealt with fighting on multiple fronts in the Vanni region, both west and east of the Kandy-Jaffna road from August 2008 to May 13, 2009. The then head of the UN mission in Sri Lanka, Neil Bhune (July 2007-February 2011), supervised the project. Bhune was succeeded by Subinay Nandy. The dossier, approved by the UN mission in Colombo estimated the number of deaths at 7,721 and the wounded at 18,479 during the period from August 2008 to May 13, 2009. However, it didn’t specify losses suffered by the LTTE fighting cadre, a failure even discussed in classified diplomatic cables originating from diplomatic missions in Colombo, at the height of the war. The UN report was based on information provided by local staff of the UN and other NGOs in the LTTE-held area, the ICRC, religious authorities and other sources. As the UN mission in Colombo can still get in touch with those who had contributed to the report, the UN investigators have an opportunity to verify facts.

The UN remains silent on the confidential dossier though it can be of paramount importance. The Sri Lankan government, too, is yet to take it up with the UN. Sri Lanka’s failure to push the UN on this issue is surprising, as there cannot be a better way to verify claims and counter claims pertaining to 40,000 civilian deaths during the final phase of the offensive. Unlike the UN, both the PoE and Channel 4 News hadn’t specified the period they meant by the final phase. The bottom line is that as the UN had accurately covered the ground situation for almost 10 months (Aug 2008 to May 2009), it can be considered the best possible source. The UN’s failure to record the deaths and injuries from May 14 to 19, 2009 cannot justify attempts to disregard the valuable dossier. As the PoE as well as the Beidas team, too, had opportunities to examine the UN dossier, there is no reason for any party to object to its release now.

Perhaps the UN should call for a thorough review of all available information gathered since the conclusion of the war in May 2009 in addition to the UN report that had dealt with the situation on the ground while fighting was on in the northern region. In this regard, the UN should also closely examine the minutes of the Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance.

In the wake of Lord Naseby’s representations to the UN, a fresh appraisal should be made on Geneva Resolution 30/1(Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka) that had been based on the PoE report (March 2011) taking into consideration (1) Gash reports that dealt with the January-May 2009 situation in the Vanni region (2) Amnesty International report titled ‘When will they get justice? (Sept 2011), Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts (Sept 2011), minutes of the Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance (CCHA) comprising government officials as well as top level diplomats. But the most important report that should be compared with the PoE is the still confidential UN document on the Vanni war prepared during Aug 2008 to May 13, 2009.

In addition to those reports and documents mentioned above, the UN can also examine the entire set of US diplomatic cables leaked by Wiki leaks that had dealt with the Vanni situation and if necessary compare it with Gash missives.

There cannot be any harm in the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration seeking a fresh evaluation, especially in the wake of Lord Naseby’s challenge to the UN.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Truly tragic story

How a celebrated officer ended up at Welikada


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka Navy celebrated its 67th anniversary last Friday (Dec 9) with Vice Admiral Sirimevan Ranasinghe at the helm. Ranasinghe succeeded Vice Admiral Travis Sinniah last October amidst simmering controversy over Sri Lanka’s decision to acquire a frigate from Russia, nine years after the successful conclusion of the war.

The government defended the acquisition, both in and outside parliament, with State Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena likening acquisition of expensive vessel to the purchase of a BMW at the price of a Toyota.

Sinniah, who had duly retired in July 2011, two years after the successful conclusion of the war, was brought back with the change of government, in January 2015 and commanded the Navy for just three months. The number of months, Sinniah, had served the Navy as its commander should be examined against the backdrop of the number of LTTE ships, the Navy task force, under his command, successfully hunted down on the high seas. Certainly, under the then Captain Sinniah’s leadership, the Navy had destroyed more LTTE ships than the number of months he served as the commander.

Sinniah is certainly a hero who had made a name for himself in the 80s in northern waters. The capture of an LTTE vessel, carrying a group of hardcore terrorists, by this junior officer, triggered an unprecedented crisis in Oct 1987, leading to a bloody war between the Indian Army and the LTTE. Had that not happened Sri Lanka’s fate would have been different.

Unfortunately, the decision to promote Sinniah as the Commander of the Navy triggered a battle with various parties exploiting the situation to their advantage. Whatever the accusations, no one could have challenged Sinniah’s suitability to command the Navy though his return to active service, after retirement, is certainly a contentious matter. Then US Ambassador Patricia Butenis intervened on behalf of Sinniah, to secure Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s consent to have him released from the Navy at a time the Rajapaksas were firmly in control. Having secured a second term, beating war-winning Army Chief Gen. Sarath Fonseka, in 2010 January, President Rajapaksa obviously didn’t foresee a political challenge at that time. The rest is history.

Sri Lanka’s most successful Navy chief, Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, wouldn’t have entrusted Sinniah with the challenging task of operations on the high seas during a crucial stage of the war if the officer’s professionalism and capabilities weren’t recognized. It would be pertinent to reiterate that it was Karannagoda, who had the wherewithal to secure the required intelligence from the US to go after the LTTE fleet.

But, at the end, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) recorded then Rear Admiral Sinniah’s statement, too, in respect of a spate of abductions that had been allegedly carried out by the Navy during the Rajapaksa administration. Karannagoda has challenged Sinniah’s statement on the basis it brought him as well as the Navy as an institute into disrepute.

In a strange and shocking twist of events, Karannagoda, who had officially brought the alleged involvement of Navy personnel in clandestine activities to the notice of the police, on May 28, 2009, during the Rajapaksa administration, ended up being treated as a ‘suspect,’ much to the surprise of post-war Sri Lanka.

UN on navy abductions

UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, Ben Emmerson, at the conclusion of his official visit to Sri Lanka, on July 14, 2017 made reference to what is now dubbed as the Navy abductions case. The writer was among those invited to cover Emmerson’s briefing at the UN compound in Colombo.

Let me reproduce the relevant paragraph verbatim: "During the Special Rapporteur’s visit, the Chief of the Army, Mahesh Senanayake, made a public commitment to ensure that members of the armed forces who had committed crimes would be brought to justice; a senior Naval Commander was arrested for his alleged involvement in the disappearance of 11 people during the closing stages of the conflict, and the Special Rapporteur was assured by the Attorney General that if and when criminal allegations against the military finally reach his office, they will be prosecuted with the full force of the law. The Attorney General recognized that if Sri Lanka was to achieve lasting peace, then its law enforcement institutions must gain the confidence of all sectors of society, including the Tamil and Muslim minorities.

But these indications fall far short of Sri Lanka’s international commitment to achieve a lasting and just solution to its underlying problems, for the benefit of all of its communities, to establish a meaningful system of transitional justice that is governed by the principles of equality and accountability, and to put in place essential and urgently needed reform of the security sector."

Police hq. on Navy abductions

Close on the heels of Emmerson’s statement, police spokesperson attorney-at-law SP Ruwan Gunasekera, briefed the media, at the Government Information Department, as regards the Navy abductions case.

Having cleared 11 persons, allegedly abducted by the Navy, of involvement with the LTTE, SP Gunasekera acknowledged that the police received a complaint from Karannagoda, way back in May, 2009, within two weeks after the conclusion of the war on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon. The CID launched an inquiry on June 10, 2009.

Ben Emmerson’s statement, as well as SP Gunasekera’s were made in the wake of Commodore D.K.P. Dassanayake’s arrest, just before the former’s arrival in Sri Lanka, on a 10-day mission.

Karannagoda’s complaint dealt with his chief security officer Lt. Commander Sampath Munasinghe. The then Navy Chief sought police intervention following the recovery of four national identity cards, one passport bearing the name of one of those whose national identity cards were found, one mobile phone, promissory notes worth over one million rupees and approximately 450 rounds of ammunition from Munasinghe’s cabin. Karannagoda wanted to have Munasinghe investigated as regards the officer’s possible involvement with terrorists, primarily due to him being in possession of ammunition not issued to him by the Navy.

SP Gunasekera is on record as having told the media that a Britisher, an eyewitness to one of the abductions, identified the hand phone, recovered from Munasinghe’s cabin, as the one seized from him by Navy personnel at the time of the abduction. The official said that the Britisher had provided vital evidence and investigators were in the process of examining available data.

The lawyer said that the four national identity cards that had been found were issued to the missing footballer, his father and two other residents of Kotahena and Trincomalee.

Following Admiral Karannagoda’s complaint, the CID had received information from the Navy that led to the arrest of Lt. Commander Hettiarachchi.

Navy Captain’s killer squads

The then Captain Dassanayake had been named as the officer in charge of two special teams headed by Lt. Commander Hettiarachchi and Lt. Commander Ranasinghe, responsible for the disappearances.

At the time of Dassanayake’s arrest he was attached to the Office of the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS). The senior most officer, taken into custody, over alleged atrocities committed during the war, Dassanayake is well known as the Navy spokesman. Dassanayake’s rank is equivalent to that of a Brigadier and Air Commodore in the Army and the Air Force, respectively. Besides, Dassanayake functioned as Acting Director, Maritime Special Forces.

Of those seven officers and men arrested by the CID, Lt. Commander Munasinghe, who had been arrested at the beginning of the investigation, received bail.

In spite of police claims, Dassanayake, neither functioned as Director Naval Operations (DNO) nor supervised special teams, commanded by two Lt. Commanders, R. P. S Ranasinghe (since then promoted Commander) and H. M. P. C. K Hettiarachchi, according to Navy headquarters records as well as statements given by senior retired and serving Navy officers to the police.

Ranasinghe has been the senior officer in charge of naval intelligence in the East whereas Hettiarachchi was attached to reconnaissance team assigned to Karannagoda.

Gunasekera alleged that then Captain Dassanayake had been navika hamuda meheyum adyaksha (Director Naval Operations) and in charge of two special teams responsible for abductions and disappearances. SP Gunasekera named those who had been abducted allegedly by them while claiming relatives of some of the victims had met Dassanayake to plead on behalf of their loved ones.

At that time (period under investigation) present Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Admiral Ravi Wijegunaratne and incumbent Navy Chief Vice Admiral SS Ranasinghe held the post of DNO. Dassanayake had been the Deputy Director.

Karannagoda acts on May 2009 complaint

Among those who had been questioned in connection with the disappearance was Rear Admiral J.J. Ranasinghe, Vice Chancellor of the Kotelawela Defence University (KDU), who brought the disappearance of 21-year-old Rajiv Naganathan of Kotahena, one of the missing 11 to the notice of Karannagoda, in May 2009. J.J. Ranasinghe, who had functioned as Navy spokesman, before Dassanayake, sought Karannagoda’s assistance on behalf of a UK-based close relative of the missing youth. As the youth had contacted his family from Trincomalee, using a phone provided by Navy personnel, his family knew of the name of the commanding officer of the base where he was held, hence Karannagoda calling for an explanation from Lt. Commander Ranasinghe. When Lt. Commander Ranasinghe denied the allegation that secret prisoners were being kept, the Navy Chief sent the then Eastern Commander Rear Admiral Thusitha Weerasekera to check the junior officer’s claim. Rear Admiral Weerasekera, too, confirmed that there were no secret prisoners. Sinniah had been Weerasekera’s No 2.

The police also recorded a statement from Rear Admiral Weerasekera (now retired). Admiral Karannagoda, Rear Admiral KJCS Fernando and several Navy intelligence personnel were among about 50 persons so far questioned by the police. Dassanayake’s statement was recorded in late Feb. 2015 though he was arrested ahead of UN Special Rapporteur Emmerson’s, visit.

Of the 11 persons, five persons were allegedly taken in on Sept. 17, 2008, by Navy personnel, along with a black coloured Tata Indica. Police have identified them as Rajiv Naganathan (21 years/Colombo 13), Pradeep Vishvanathan (18 years/Wasala Rd, Colombo 13), Mohammed Sajith (21 years/Dematagoda), Thilakeswaram Ramalingam (17 years/Bloemendhal housing complex, Colombo 13) and Jamaldeen Dilan (Maradana). Those involved in the operation were believed to have been accompanied by a Navy informant Mohammed Ali Anwar alias Hadjjiar of Karagampitiya, Dehiwela. Subsequently, the 28-year-old informant, too, had disappeared; he has been listed among those 11 missing.

The remaining five persons are Kasthuriarachchilage John Reid (21 years/Kotahena/8-9-2008)), Amalan Leon (50 years/Arippu, north/25-8-2008)) and his son Roshan Leon (21 years/Arippu north/25-8-2008), Anthony Kasthuriarachchi (48 years/Kotahena/10-10-2008) and Kanagaraja Jegan (32 years, Trincomalee)

Due to Karannagoda’s intervention, Munasinghe surrendered to the police, in June 2009, after having accused CoN of planning to assassinate Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka. Lt. Commander Munasinghe and Lt. Commander Hettiarachchi received bail while five persons, including Commander Ranasinghe, are in remand, pending further investigations.

Although Navy headquarters lodged a complaint, in May 2009, with the police, the progress of the investigations had been slow. When Vice Admiral Jayanath Colomabge became Commander of the Navy, in late 2012, he appointed Lt Commander Ranasinghe as his PSO.

Three Navy personnel, including Lt. Commander K.C. Welagedera, who had been Ranasinghe’s deputy in Trincomalee, implicated Dassanayake in the disappearances. Following their statements, particularly the one given by Welagedara, who had been investigated by the Office of the Provost Marshal, for his alleged involvement in human smuggling operations, Provost Marshal Dassanayake faced difficulty in taking part in a prestigious US military course. Welagedara accused four officers, including Dassanayake, of threatening him. Although Dassanayake was allowed to proceed to the US in Sept. 2014, the then Navy Commander Vice Admiral Jayantha Perera requested him to return in mid- Feb 2015. The police recorded Dassanayake statement two weeks later.

Lt. Commander Welagedara is currently in Australia on overseas leave.

The travel ban imposed on Dassanayake, by court, on a request made by the police, in Feb. 2015, remains in force.

The allegations in respect of disappearances deprived Dassanayake of due promotion to the rank of Commodore.

The intervention made by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) on Dassanayake’s behalf subsequently led to him receiving the appointment as temporary Commodore with seniority backdated to June 1, 2015. The police arrested Dassanayake before the HRCSL received representations by retired Admirals, Karannagoda and Thisara Samarasinghe on behalf of Dassanayake.

Meanwhile, investigations conducted by the Navy, during the war, implicated at least four of the missing persons (not among those abducted on Sept 17, 2008) and the informant in LTTE operations. Those residents of Arippu North had been involved in the running of a fleet of boats between northern Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. Those allegedly taken in on Sept 17, 2008, were believed to have been involved in a credit card racket with the knowledge of the LTTE.

The previous government owed an explanation to the country why it failed to investigate Karannagoda’s complaint until the change of government. Sri Lanka is certainly paying a very heavy price for the lapses on the part of the previous government.

Glory days

The writer had an opportunity to visit Chalai in late April 2009 as the LTTE was waging a desperate struggle to thwart the Army on the Vanni east front. Dassanayake was there as the senior officer responsible for an unprecedented naval blockade meant to prevent a possible attempt to evacuate LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, his family and senior most cadres, such as Pottu Amman and Soosai, heads of Intelligence Wing and Sea Tigers respectively. Then Commanding Officer of the Trincomalee-based Fast Attack Craft (FACs) Captain Noel Kalubowila, too, joined journalists from Colombo, taken to Chalai seas, where dozens of heavily armed SLN craft maintained watch. The writer was among the group that returned to Chalai again in the night to observe what was going on. Dassanayake was not among us. Dassanayake was with his units engaged in the blockade. Having vowed not to allow Prabhakaran to escape by sea, Karannagoda placed dogged Dassanayake in charge of the blockade. Those who had been deployed there operated under extremely difficult conditions. They faced the unenviable task of rescuing civilians, fleeing the war zone in boats, apprehending terrorists trying to escape along with civilians, and thwarting terrorists and their families escaping through the naval cordon. Dassanayake’s men performed their task admirably. Among those who had been apprehended by the Navy were Sea Tiger leader Soosai’s wife and children, though at the time of their arrest the Navy wasn’t aware of their identity.

The writer worked closely with Dassanayake during the war, and after, and considered the seizure of an LTTE vessel by the Navy overseas in early Dec 2009 a significant and unprecedented achievement. The writer was certainly privileged to go on-board the captured LTTE vessel ‘Princess Christina’ aka Feng Shun 7 on the afternoon of Dec 21, 2009 when it was brought to the Colombo port. Karannagoda’s successor, then Vice Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe had been there to welcome the Navy team that brought the vessel. Dassanayake had led the six-member team, comprising four officers and two men who flew in to a South East Asian country, separately and surreptitiously infiltrated the harbour situated at a remote island before taking control of the asset in an operation details of which cannot be disclosed.

Interrogation of Prabhakaran’s successor in Colombo after having captured him in Malaysia, in early August 2009, led to the seizure of the vessel. The Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) played a significant role in both the Malaysia operation and the subsequent seizure of the vessel. But, it was Dassanayake’s team that had to seize the vessel that was to be used in a possible rescue mission. A smiling Dassanayake told the writer how their achievement could be the basis for a movie or a book (Navy brings in captured LTTE vessel involved in bid to evacuate P’karan with strap line A light chopper was to be used to remove P’karan to the ship - The Island, Dec 22, 2009)

The vessel had been among a fleet of five ships that was legitimately acquired by the LTTE, bought through various front companies. Unlike the LTTE-operated eight vessels, hunted down during Sept 2006-Oct 2007 during Karannagoda’s tenure, the five vessels had never been used to smuggle in arms, ammunition or equipment to the LTTE. The vessel hat had been captured was the one to be used for rescue operation.

Dassanayake played a central role in government media project. Dassanayake and the writer ‘handled’ the Kanyakumari massacre, in early 2007, subsequent to the sinking of Indian trawler Sri Krishna commandeered by the LTTE in Maldivian waters, and detection of explosives belonging to the LTTE in Indian waters and other events whereas the Media Center for National Security (MCNS) addressed day to day issues. The MCNS never focused on the big picture.

Who would have thought Dassanayake would have to be at the maximum security Welikada prison, as an accused, on a day the Navy celebrated its anniversary?

With the Colombo High Court, on Dec 7, 2017, further remanding six Navy personnel, including Dassanayake, till January 11, 2018, they will be spending the dawning of New Year, too, at Welikada.

Ranasinghe, too, had been responsible for dismantling the LTTE networks and won admiration for apprehending and driving an explosives packed LTTE vehicle meant to mount an attack in Colombo at the height of the war.

Had they committed atrocities they should certainly be subject to the normal law of the land. They should face the consequences for their actions. Uniforms do not give license for those who wear them to put innocents to death.

Had the previous Government ensured proper and speedy investigations, at least after the UNSG Panel of Experts (PoE), released its damning report on Sri Lanka, in March 2011, Navy abduction case could have been addressed much earlier. Unfortunately, those who had been in power lacked political courage to do so. Having plunged the post-war Sri Lanka into crisis, those who had been in power, and the present government, refuse at least to review their actions. What a pity!

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Accusers, co-sponsor struggling to cope up with Naseby revelations




By Shamindra Ferdinando

Five years after the release of the Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts (PoE) on Accountability in Sri Lanka, in March 2011, South African Yasmin Sooka, a member of that questionable outfit, proudly claimed to possess unhindered access to those who had fled Sri Lanka during the Eelam War, and post-war period, as well as the largest collection of witness testimony and other evidence, outside Sri Lanka, pertaining to the final phase of the conflict and post-war torture and sexual violence.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May, 2009, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.

Sooka made her claim in her capacity as the executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa, and the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP).

The claim was made in June 2016 in an expensive report ‘Forgotten Sri Lanka’s exiled victims.’ released by the ITJP, affiliated to the Foundation of Human Rights in South Africa.

Sooka’s claim, as regards having the largest collection of witness testimony and other evidence outside Sri Lanka, should be closely examined against the backdrop of UNSG Panel of Experts declaration that it had received 4,000 submissions from 2,300 persons.

The mainly Western backed NGO community often working according to their agenda consider Sooka as a leading human rights lawyer, activist and an international expert in the fields of transitional justice, gender equality and international war crimes.

The release of the report ‘Forgotten Sri Lanka’s exiled victims’ coincided with the commencement of the 32 sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

The report made an obvious bid to deceive those who fund her as well as the public. The writer sought a clarification from the UNSG’s Office in the wake of Sooka claim that she was a legal adviser to the then UNSG Ban Ki-moon.

The report: "She is a former member of the South African & the Sierra Leon Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and was a legal adviser to Ban Ki-moon on Sri Lanka. She was the Soros inaugural Chair at the School of Public Policy and recently sat on the Panel investigating sexual violence by French peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic."

The writer received the following response from UNSG’s Deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq: "Yasmin Sooka has been on high level panels, including on Sri Lanka, but she has not been the legal adviser to the Secretary-General."

Will Sooka take up Lord Naseby’s challenge?

Now that former Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot Michael Wolfgang Laurence Morris, aka Lord Naseby, has challenged the PoE report, pertaining to the Vanni death toll, as well as the then Rajapaksa government’s military strategy, on the basis of wartime dispatches from Colombo, it would be the responsibility of the PoE, comprising Sooka, Steven R. Ratner and its chairman Marzuki Darsusman, to set the record straight. None of them had so far responded to Lord Naseby’s two primary claims (a) maximum Vanni death roll 7,000 to 8,000 not 40,000 as claimed in PoE report (paragraph 137) (b) deliberate killing of civilians by indiscriminate shelling of three no fire zones, attacks on hospitals and makeshift medical facilities and denial of humanitarian assistance (paragraph 176).

Lord Naseby secured wartime heavily censored dispatches from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) with the intervention of the Information Commissioner’s Office and used what was made available with devastating success.

Sooka shouldn’t have any problem in humiliating Lord Naseby in public by using the so called largest collection of witness testimony and other evidence outside Sri Lanka. In fact, the UN cannot afford to remain silent in the wake of Lord Naseby’s claims, made on Oct 12, 2017. The Conservative politician has challenged the very basis of the PoE report as well as the subsequent OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL). The bottom line is that Lord Naseby’s assertions, made during a debate on Sri Lanka, in the House of Lords, were based on diplomatic dispatches from Colombo from the then British military attache Lt. Colonel Anton Gash whereas PoE and OISL ‘sources’ remains confidential!

Sooka recently targeted Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya as well as Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, the wartime General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the celebrated 58 Division. Let us see whether the INGO guru can challenge Lord Naseby.

According to PoE, those who had provided information to the inquiring body wouldn’t be subjected to scrutiny for a 20-year period, from the date of the release of the report. As the report has been released in March 2011, those ‘sources’ can not be verified until 2031 but the UN can easily seek British approval to ‘interview’ Gash as regards his reports from Colombo. Although, the FCO has withheld crucial sections of the Gash reports, the sections released effectively contradicted the PoE claims.

It would be interesting to know whether the PoE and OISL had received the Gash reports from the FCO. The FCO’s refusal to release Gash reports, sought by Lord Naseby, in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000, is evidence that they were certainly inimical to the despicable British political project to bring the Rajapaksa rule to an end. Had the Gash reports in anyway strengthened unsubstantiated war crimes allegations propagated by various interested parties, the UK based Global Tamil Forum (GTF) or some other Tamil Diaspora would have sought the Gash reports.

It would be pertinent to mention that an expensive international study, funded by Norway, in the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism, took into consideration leaked US diplomatic cables.

Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) and School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, produced Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka, with the focus on the disastrous 2002 Feb bid. The team comprised Gunnar Sorbo, Prof. Jonathan Goodhand, Bart Klem, Ada Elisabeth Nissen and Hilde Selbervik. The report released in Nov. 2011 acknowledged the examination of US diplomatic cables pertaining to Sri Lanka. Therefore, there cannot be any issue over the studying of British diplomatic cables. Having repeatedly pledged to find out the truth, the UK shouldn’t block access to its records.

The PoE and OISL had never sought, nor offered, wartime dispatches from Western missions in Colombo though they received information provided by various interested parties. There couldn’t have been any issue in UN investigators receiving unhindered access to diplomatic cables originating from Colombo. The Rajapaksas’ NEVER realized ground realities. Instead of addressing accountability issues promptly, the war-winning administration like the proverbial ostrich burying its head in the sand, ignored its responsibility to disprove the damaging allegations, leading to the US forming a grand coalition, at the 2010 January and 2015 January presidential elections. The 2015 January project succeeded. Over two years, after the change of government, the Rajapaksa Camp, now called the Joint Opposition, is still struggling to comprehend the Geneva issue. Although MP Dinesh Gunawardena, on behalf of the JO, raised the Naseby issue in parliament twice, the group never really succeeded in exploiting the situation.

UN et al respond to Naseby claims

Farhan Aziz Haq, Deputy Spokesperson for UNSG António Guterres told the writer last week that the Geneva-based UNHRC could revisit resolution 30/1 titled ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’

The US resolution, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka was adopted on Oct 1, 2015 without a vote. Sri Lanka accepted the US led resolution days after Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, Ravinatha Arysinha, rejected the draft at an informal session.

Haq said that decisions regarding actions taken by the UNHRC were solely in the hands of the members of the Human Rights Council. He added that it would be up to the member states of the Human Rights Council to decide whether to revisit Sri Lanka’s case.

The UNHRC comprises 47 countries, divided into five zones.

The UN spokesperson said so when the writer asked him whether there was a possibility in the UN revisiting Geneva Resolution in the wake of Lord Naseby assertion during a debate that the Vanni death toll was, maximum, 7,000 to 8,000, and not 40,000 as reported by the PoE in March 2011 and that the GoSL never targeted civilians purposely.

"Decisions about the actions taken by the Human Rights Council are solely in the hands of the member of the Human Rights Council. It would be up to the member states of the Human Rights Council to decide whether to revisit this case."

Charge d’Affaires, Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Paul Godfrey told the writer that the EU had no reason to question the PoE estimate in respect of the Vanni death toll.

The Geneva Resolution has recommended a hybrid court, inclusive of foreign judges, and other experts.

Godfrey said: "Of course, we would support the establishment of a credible truth-seeking process, in line with the UNHRC resolution, to better document the fate of the thousands of people killed. Establishing the truth about their fate has the potential to limit any distortion for political reasons and can be the basis for the much needed process of national reconciliation."

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesperson Sarasi Wijeratne told the writer that the ICRC wouldn’t inquire into Lord Naseby’s claims. "We are a humanitarian organization not an investigative agency."

Top Norwegian negotiator, Erik Solheim, who had been deeply involved in deliberations during the tenures of Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa regimes, told the writer that it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to respond to Naseby issue as long as he headed the UN Environment.

The author of ‘To End a Civil War: Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka’ as well as an international expert on Sri Lanka, Mark Salter told the writer that at this stage he had no comment to make on Naseby allegations.

"It may become easier to do so if and when the evidence on which he bases his allegations becomes publicly available."

Perhaps, the UK should release uncensored Gash reports, at least to the UN, and other experts, and diplomats, such as Salter and Solheim, to review the situation.

Lord Naseby, in an exclusive interview with India headquartered WION global television network, explained how the FCO tried to deprive him of confidential dispatches from Gash. In its second interview with Naseby, WION sought Naseby’s views on accusations that the Sri Lanka Army, and the CID personnel had raped 50 Tamil men, now seeking political asylum in Europe, mostly in the UK.

UK based Global Tamil Forum (GTF) spokesperson, Suren Surendiran, dismissed Lord Naseby’s statements. Surendiran said: "Lord Naseby is one of over 800 Lords in the House of Lords. He is not a representative of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee or the FCO. His views do not represent the FCO or the British Government’s policy on Sri Lanka. Britain was one of the main sponsors of the Geneva Resolutions and Britain still insists that the resolutions must be fully implemented."

A spokesperson for TNA leader R. Sampanthan told the writer that the party would comment on this matter once the Opposition Leader had studied Lord Naseby’s statement.

UK based Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow, who had repeatedly accused Sri Lanka of massacring 40,000 civilians during the Vanni offensive didn’t get in touch with The Island, though the Channel acknowledged receiving The Island request.

The National Peace Council (NPC) spokesperson Jehan Perera, who had accompanied the government delegation, headed by then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, told the writer that the numbers mentioned by Lord Naseby had been cited much earlier by others. Declaring that Naseby hadn’t given anything new, Perera issued the following statement in response to the writer’s query: "Respected civil society organizations, such as the Marga Institute, have consulted with other civil society groups, done their own research and come up with conclusions. This issue has been the subject of exhaustive debate in the past and different opinions continue to exist. The National Peace Council would see the need for an impartial investigation into claims and counter claims about these figures. A truth-seeking commission, appointed by the government, as promised in the co-sponsored UNHRC resolution of 2015, and with all-party support, would be an appropriate way forward"

Jehan Perera should now name those who had cited figures mentioned by Naseby in his address to the House of Lords on Oct 12, 2017.

Anti-Sri Lanka project exposed

Interestingly, none of those who had been propagating war crimes allegations didn’t take on Naseby. Sooka, in spite of claiming to have possessed unhindered access to those who had fled Sri Lanka during Eelam War and post-war period as well as the largest collection of witness testimony and other evidence, outside Sri Lanka, pertaining to the final phase of the conflict and post-war torture and sexual violence, remains silent.

Colombian Pablo de Greiff, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, who had been here last month, declined to comment on matters raised by Lord Naseby. In a pathetic bid to side-step the issue, de Greiff claimed that all his meetings in Colombo, over a two-week period, were private, hence his inability to respond to The Island queries sent to his office: Greiff has had a series of meetings with political and military leaders in Sri Lanka during his two-week official visit. We asked him (a) Did Sri Lankan political and military leaders or civil society representatives make representations to him regarding a statement made by Lord Naseby in respect of accountability issues in Sri Lanka and the responsibility on the part of the UN/Geneva to revisit unsubstantiated war crimes allegations? (b) Did he discuss Lord Naseby’s claims with Sri Lankan officials and civil society?

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government committed the cardinal sin when it treacherously refrained from referring to Naseby revelations at Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva, mid last month. In fact, the government sought to play down the issue even after the JO raised it twice in parliament. Both Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, PC and his deputy Wasantha Senanayake, struggled to explain the delay/failure on the part of the government to take up the Naseby revelations at the right time.

Now the UNSG’s Office, in response to the writer’s query, has stated that it would be up to members of the UNHRC to decide whether to revisit Sri Lanka’s case, Sri Lanka should act now. Therefore, the government, should, without further delay, bring the issue to the notice of Geneva. Lord Naseby, too, has requested Theresa May’s government to officially request Geneva to drop war crimes charges levelled against Sri Lanka.

TNA chief R. Sampanthan, who has been in the forefront of the war crimes campaign remained silent claiming that he was in the process of studying the Oct 12, 2017 debate on Sri Lanka. The bottom line is UK High Commission dispatches are unchallengeable. The UK’s dilemma is obvious. The Theresa May government cannot deny dispatches of its own from Colombo. There cannot be any sharp difference between the US and the UK wartime dispatches from Colombo and, therefore, Western powers will certainly suppress them.

Remember, how the US State Department had to distance itself from US Defence Advisor Lt. Col Lawrence Smith’s defence of the Sri Lanka Army at an international seminar held in Colombo in June 2011. The then government ignored the US official’s statement made over two years after the conclusion of the war. Had the government acted on the US statement, the country could have been better defended and lies countered. Unfortunately, the Rajapaksa government missed that opportunity.

Now Lord Naseby has given us another opportunity. With the UNP, and the sharply divided SLFP, struggling with the forthcoming local government polls, countering Western lies is unlikely to be high on anyone’s agenda.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Shangri-La, a monument to Lanka’s triumph over terrorism



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Hong Kong-based Shangri-La Asia invited war-winning Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa for dinner on the night of Nov 17, the day after the opening of its Colombo hotel by President Maithripala Sirisena.

Shangri-La Chairperson, Kuok Hui Kwong, the daughter of Robert Kuok Khoon Ean, was there to welcome Rajapaksa, who had cleared the way for the post-war mega tourism investment project.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.

The ground breaking ceremony for the Shangri-La project was held on the morning of Feb 24, 2012 with the participation of then Minister Basil Rajapaksa. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa wasn’t present. The then UNP Mayor of Colombo A.J.M. Muzammil, currently Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Malaysia, was among those who had been present. In spite of hostility between the UNP and the Rajapaksas, key UNPer Muzammil threw his weight behind the project. In fact, Muzammil worked closely with Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to transform Colombo.

Having identified the invaluable land, where the Army Headquarters and Defence Ministry were situated at, for its project, Shangri-La made its move. Those who had been aware of Shangri-La’s plans were hesitant and certainly not confident of their success. They felt fearful of Defence Secretary Rajapaksa’s reaction.

But, following swift negotiations, the agreement was signed on Dec 28, 2010. Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya was the then Commander of the Army with his predecessor General Fonseka in government custody after having been arrested within two weeks after the conclusion of the 2010 January 26 presidential poll. The writer always felt that the decision to arrest Fonseka was nothing but a monumental blunder of the previous administration.

Ironically, the opening of Shangri-La took place amidst speculation that the government is planning to take Gotabhaya Rajapaksa into custody.

Shangri-La had no option but to invite members of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration and some key members of the previous government, separately, due to animosity between the former and the present rulers. What a shame. Among those who had been invited, on the night of Nov 17, were former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, former Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, President’s Counsel Gamini Marapana, Attorney-at-Law Sampath Mendis, MP Namal Rajapaksa, MP Lohan Ratwatte, MP C.B. Ratnayake, MP Pavitra Wanniarachchi and some personal friends. In fact, the Shangri-La dinner coincided with Mahinda Rajapaksa’s birthday.

GR exploits JRJ’s blueprint

Addressing the annual Viyathmaga Convention at Golden Rose Hotel, Boralesgamuwa, on March 4, 2017, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, perhaps for the first time publicly discussed his role in the Shangri-La project. Declaring that Sri Lanka suffered for want of what he called a workable formula to achieve post-war development objectives, the war veteran compared the period, in the aftermath of the successful conclusion of the war, in May 2009, with that under the current yahapalana administration.

Rajapaksa stressed the pivotal importance of swift and bold decision taking.

The former Defence Secretary said that the former government had acted swiftly, and decisively, to attract foreign investment though some such efforts were seemed not feasible. There couldn’t be a better example than the government finalizing on agreement with Shangri-La Hotels, the former Gajaba Regiment veteran said.

Declaring that red tape shouldn’t in anyway be allowed to undermine investments, Rajapaksa recalled Chairman/CEO of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, Robert Kuok Khoon Ean, wanting the Army Headquarters land for his Colombo project. In fact, the hotels chain at the time had proposed to build hotels in Colombo, Hambantota and Batticaloa, and was one of the key investors wanting to exploit Sri Lanka’s success in defeating terrorism.

"Khoon-Ean’s request for army headquarters land caused a serious problem for me. It was a serious challenge. How could I shift the headquarters of the war-winning army? The army had been there for six decades. It had been the nerve centre of war for 30 years," said Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa went on to explain how he exploited a decision taken by the first executive president JR Jayewardene to shift the Army Headquarters, to Battaramulla, many years back. "Within two weeks, in consultation with the Secretary to the Finance Ministry, Dr P. B. Jayasundera, and the Board of Investment, measures were taken to finalize the transaction. The project was launched to shift the Army, Navy and Air Force headquarters to Akuregoda, Pelawatte, in accordance with JRJ’s plan."

The Hong Kong-based group announced the purchase of 10 acres of state land, in January 2011. Shangri-La Asia Limited announced plans to invest over USD 400 mn on the 30-storeyed star class hotel with 661 rooms.

The hotel is the second property in Sri Lanka for the leading Asian hospitality group, joining Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort & Spa, which opened in June 2016.

Rajapaksa said that the top Shangri-La executive had referred to the finalization of their Colombo agreement to highlight the business friendly way the then administration handled the investment. Shangri-La had no qualms about recommending Sri Lanka as a place for investment, Rajapaksa said.

Rajapaksa lamented that the previous government hadn’t been able to properly inform the public of its post-war achievements and it had suffered the January 2015 presidential polls defeat. The previous administration’s failure, Rajapaksa asserted, had helped those all out to oust it. That declaration was made in the presence of former President Rajapaksa and former minister Basil Rajapaksa among others at Golden Rose Hotel, Battaramulla.

The former Defence Secretary mentioned the Avant Garde Maritime Services (AGMS) another private enterprise that exploited the international demand for security services in the face of pirates’ threat. The AGMS had brought in foreign exchange and created employment opportunities though the project went awry after the change of government, in January 2015. The law could be exploited, used here to the advantage of those in power, the former Defence Secretary said.

The writer explained the move to shift Army Headquarters and the Defence Ministry from Colombo in a lead story headlined ‘Shangri-La to push MoD, Army Hq out of Colombo city: Army Hospital expected to be converted into a museum’ (The Island, January 4, 2011). The report certainly surprised many, including some members of parliament, who hadn’t been informed about the Shangri-La investment. Although they appreciated the substantial investment, many found it difficult to comprehend the war-winning Army having to vacate its headquarters.

Having gradually vacated the land, over the years, the Army now retain only a small portion of what was previously its headquarters land. Serving Army Chief Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake is going to be the last Commander to be there. Lt. Gen. Senanayake remains at the Commander’s Secretariat while work is underway at Akuregoda, where the three services headquarters as well as the Defence Ministry would be located.

Interestingly, the launch of ground work, at Akuregoda, coincided with the finalization of the agreement with Shangri-La, in Dec 2010. The Army is yet to complete the vacation of the land sold to the hotel complex.

LTTE targets SLA HQ

Two LTTE female suicide cadres mounted an attack on the Army Headquarters, on the morning of Nov 24, 1995, killing 16 persons. The dead included civilians. The second, far more serious attack, was mounted on the afternoon of April 25, 2006, in the high security area, within the complex. Had the LTTE woman suicide cadre succeeded in eliminating the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, Sri Lanka wouldn’t have been able to bring the war to a successful conclusion. In spite of having had suffered serious injuries, Lt. Gen. Fonseka, returned to command the Army, in late July, 2006, much to the relief of those who had cherished the armed forces triumph over terrorism. Fonseka could have quit the Army but he decided to take the challenge.

Sinha Regiment veteran, Fonseka, Sri Lanka’s most successful Army Chief, and now Field Marshal and Regional Development Minister, wasn’t among those invited by Shangri-La.

Moving Army out of Colombo was unthinkable during the war, or even after. The then Defence Secretary Rajapaksa’s decision shocked the Rajapaksa government but no one dared to question. His decision was final.

In the run-up to Eelam War IV, newly appointed Defence Secretary recommended Fonseka as the Commander of the Army though many resented the proposal but none dared to oppose it. In the wake of its abortive bid to assassinate Fonseka, the LTTE made an attempt on Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s life, on Dec 1, 2006, as Prabhakaran stepped up pressure on the government.

Fonseka, in his testimony in the White Flag case, recalled how Gotabhaya Rajapaksa rushed to the Colombo National hospital, within five minutes, after he gained consciousness seven days after the suicide attack and assured government scholarships for Fonseka’s daughters to study in the US. Anoma Fonseka and daughters had been present at the time the Defence Secretary had visited him.

Colombo was under siege and Shangri-La wouldn’t have dared even to contemplate investing in Colombo. But, within three years, the armed forces brought the LTTE to its knees to pave the way for major foreign investments to come in.

In his address to the annual Convention of Viyathmaga, in March this year, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa explained the pivotal importance of rapid decision making process (Shangri-La investment a case in point, with strap line, Doing away with ‘red tape’ for the greater good – The Island, March 5, 2017).

Post-rainbow revolution


In the wake of the January 2015 change of government, the new leadership caused chaos with the suspension of the China-funded Port City Project, a little distance away from the Shangri-La project. Many an eyebrow was raised when the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake declared, in mid March, 2015, that funds wouldn’t be made available to Akuregoda Defense Complex project until the exact cost estimation of the project could be clarified.

Lakna Paranamana, of Daily Mirror, quoted Karunanayake as having said that as a responsible government they couldn’t simply release tax payers’ money unless it’s certain that they were put to good use. "Presently, this project seems like a bottomless pit and we need to know the depth of what we are getting into. From the current state of finances, allocated for this project, it seems as if they are building a complex that’s even bigger than the Pentagon!"

The declaration was made in the wake of the 2015 Feb. treasury bond scam that shook the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration. In fact, the yahapalana administration never recovered from the treasury bond scam and now is pathetically struggling to overcome the growing crisis.

In mid June 2016, cabinet spokesperson, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne announced the suspension of the Akuregoda project. Citing financial irregularities and mismanagement of funds, Dr. Senaratne alleged that all cabinet papers on the project, had been prepared according to the whims and fancies of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

The suspension order was made public a few months after the second far bigger treasury bond scam, in 2016 March.

Obviously, a section of the government couldn’t stomach mega projects undertaken by the former Defence Secretary.

Today, thanks to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, the world knows how issuance of treasury bonds had been manipulated, on two occasions, for the benefit of Perpetual Treasuries and some of those Central Bank of Sri Lanka employees, who connived in the scam.

In spite of despicable attempts to sabotage national projects, finally saner counsel prevailed. Hence the decision to go ahead with Akuregoda project. President Maithripala Sirisena on Sept 5, 2017, inspected the Akuregoda Defence Complex, as well as the Lotus Tower, under construction.

Wartime military spokesman the then Maj. Gen Udaya Nanayakkara received appointment as the Akuregoda project director in Aug 2011. Nanayakkara held that post till Sept. 2015 Maj. Gen. Mahinda Ambanpola succeeded Nanayakkara.

Within weeks after President Rajapaksa’s defeat, the new administration made its move against the Akuregoda project.

The following is The Island front page story, dated January 19, 2015: "Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake, in the third week of January, said that Rs 13.2 billion, in an account maintained at the Taprobane branch of the Bank of Ceylon, had been transferred to Consolidated Account of the Treasury. The matter was being investigated as the account belonged to the Ministry of Defence, he added.

The Finance Minister stressed that the MoD had no right to maintain such an account in violation of regulations and therefore the opening of the account was being investigated. The Minister alleged that several illegal transactions, including one involving Samurdhi, had come to light. He estimated the Samurdhi transaction (now under investigation) at Rs. 4 billion.

Responding to the allegation, former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said that the funds received from the Shangri-la transaction had been deposited there and the funds utilised for the construction of Akuregoda Defence Complex.

The former Defence Secretary said that the chief accountant of the Defence Ministry could explain the matter. Insisting that the particular account hadn’t been in his name, Rajapaksa said that a detailed response would be issued shortly (Ravi K orders Rs 13.2 b in MoD account transferred to Treasury, with strap line, Funds were meant for Defence Complex – Gotabhaya).

The writer obtained the above statements from Karunanayake and Rajapaksa in the wake of the former’s statement that the Akuregoda Defence Complex was even bigger than Pentagon.

Yahapalana role in

Shangri-La expansion

In spite of strongly objecting to almost all projects launched by the previous government, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration pledged their commitment to them. Yahapalana support extended to Shangri-La is a case in point. Having secured 10 acres, from the previous Rajapaksa administration, Shangri-La purchased an additional three and a half acres, also on a 99-year lease, recently.

However, The Sunday Times recent reportage of the second Shangri-La land deal prompted President Maithripala Sirisena to direct cabinet spokesman, Dayasiri Jayasekera, to clarify the transaction. In other words, President Sirisena contradicted Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema for alleging that the President gave three and a half acres, situated between the newly opened Shangri-La Hotel and Beira Lake.

Jayasekera explained the circumstances under which Shangri-La, through its Singapore based subsidiary Perennial Real Estate Holdings, acquired three and a half acres adjoining its latest hotel, situated on 10 acres, abutting the Galle Face promenade, in Colombo.

On the day before the opening of Shangri-La by President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe, Jayasekera explained how the government had re-negotiated with the Shangri-La Group what he called a much better deal than the one struck by the previous administration.

Jayasekera confirmed that the lease was for a period of 99 years.

The government leased three and a half acres of land at a rate of Rs. 13.1 mn per perch whereas the previous administration agreed to Rs 6.5 mn per perch.

According to Jayasekera the previous government had leased 10 acres at a rate of Rs 9.5 mn (with taxes) per perch.

Shangri-La opening on Nov. 16, 2017, and an assassination on Nov. 16, 1992

The LTTE assassinated then Navy Commander Vice Admiral Clancy Fernando, right opposite Taj Samudra, on the Galle Road, a little distance away from where Shangri-La is situated, on Nov 16, 1992. President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe opened Shangri-La on Nov 16, 2017. A suicide bomber, on a motorcycle, detonated explosives beside a car carrying VA Fernando, the only service commander to die in an attack before Prabhakaran made an attempt on Lt. Gen. Fonseka. Some believed the suicide bomber had rammed VA’s official car. VA Fernando earned the wrath of Prabhakaran for a bloody blockade of the Jaffna peninsula. The Navy operation mounted from Nagathevanthurai naval station, on the Vanni side of the Jaffna lagoon, during VA Fernando’s tenure, led to the attack. Prabhakaran picked Galle Road for the spectacular strike.

The killer pulled up within two feet of VA’s fast moving car at about 7.45 am, and detonated a bomb packed with iron pellets. The blast completely damaged the Mercedez Benz.

VA received the appointment as the Commander of Navy on Aug. 1, 1991.

Today, those in authority hardly remember sacrifices made by the armed forces. Sri Lanka, following the change of government, stunned the world by giving into unreasonable demands, to cancel the annual combined forces military parade, at Galle Face to celebrate the May 2009 triumph over the LTTE. Can there be a decision as idiotic as calling off a military parade to appease those who always believed in LTTE’s superiority and strength to somehow overwhelm the Army until the very end? This is while other countries celebrate their famous victories like D Day!