Wednesday, 23 May 2018

A country divided over eradication of terrorism!

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 219

 

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The Global Sri Lanka Forum (GSLF) celebrated Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism in May, 2009 with a public gathering in Dubai. Former Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohina addressed the gathering. On the invitation of the GSLF, Mrs S.G Juliet, mother of Corporal Gamini Kularatne of the Sixth Battalion of the Sinha Regiment garlanded a statue of her son. Gunaratne carried out suicide attack on an LTTE bulldozer on July 14, 1991 during the battle for the strategic Elephant Pass base, the gateway to the Jaffna peninsula.The event took place in the wake of the recent split in the GSLF, leading to the formation of another organization, World Patriotic Lankan Forum (WPLF), headed by Wasantha Keerthiratne.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Nine years after the successful conclusion of the war, Sri Lanka is still struggling to cope up with her greatest post-war achievement. A deeply divided Sri Lanka marked the ninth anniversary of the defeat of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), once considered invincible by many, on the Vanni east front, with a series of countrywide commemorative events this month. Much to the disappointment of the vast majority of people, the government and the military couldn’t even organize these events in one day.

Commemorative events were held on May 18 at the Security Forces Headquarters, Division Headquarters, Forward Maintenance Areas, Regimental Centers, Army Training Schools, Units, Field Headquarters and military rehabilitation centers.

Many an eyebrow was raised when the Security Forces Headquarters, Jaffna, organized a commemorative event on May 4 with Northern Province Governor Reginald Cooray as the Chief Guest. It is still not clear why the Jaffna Security Forces Headquarters organized a commemorative event in the first week of May.

Religious events, too, were held with an aaloka pooja at Kelaniya Raja Viharaya, where 28,619 lamps were lit in memory of the fallen officers and men and those listed missing. The Kelaniya event was held on May 19.

The main national event was held at the National War Heroes Monument at Battaramulla on May 19, with the participation of President Maithripala Sirisena and service commanders. PM Wickremesinghe was very conspicuous by his absence. War-winning Army Chief and Sri Lanka’s only five-star General Sarath Fonseka, at the center of a recent controversy over publicly flaying President Sirisena, attended the event.  

BUT THE GOVERNMENT REFRAINED FROM RESUMING THE VICTORY DAY PARADE, SUSPENDED IN 2015, AFTER THE CHANGE OF GOVERNMENT. UPFA General Secretary and Sirisena loyalist Mahinda Amaraweera declared, on May 19, that as the costly event wasn’t held, funds could be utilized for the welfare of the military.

Mullivaikkal Genocide Day 

Northern Province Chief Minister and former Supreme Court judge, Canagasabapathy Visuvalingam Wigneswaran, took part in a commemorative event organized at the Mullivaikkal memorial ground on May 18 to mark what the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) stalwart called the 9th anniversary of the Mullivaikkal Genocide Day.

The Tamil Guardian quoted Wigneswaran as having said: "Even in this situation where we are not in a position to deliver any sort of justice to our people who have been affected; our people are protesting continuously on the streets for justice and their fundamental securities; and our land is becoming colonized by Buddhism by the many thousands of military officers deployed across the North-East today, we gather together to remember the 9th anniversary of Mullivaikkal Genocide Day."

The Mullivaikkal event underscored the sharp split in the four-party TNA with Wigneswaran asserting leadership in a movement that could challenge the current TNA leadership.

 Addressing the crowd, Wigneswaran urged the international community (read as Western powers) to establish what the Tamil Guardian called an international strategic mechanism to ensure justice.

Alleging that the Tamil community had been subjected to ‘institutional genocide’, Wigneswaran sought an assurance from the international community (read as Western powers) as regards a sustainable political settlement based on their sovereignty, their homelands and their individuality.

"Sri Lanka consented to install a hybrid Inquiry Panel before the world body. Now they refuse to abide by their promise and undertaking. This would point out to the world the manner in which our successive governments, for 70 years, have deceived and fooled our Tamil people.

 "Still steadfast in their Mahawansa-oriented perception, the Sinhalese politicians consider the Mullivaikal debacle as the end of a Tamil – Sinhala war. That is why commemorative victory festivals are held in the South during this period."

Calling on the military to withdraw completely from the North-East, Wigneswaran said, "The Vanni area has become the citadel for Sinhala colonization. Especially in this Mullaitivu District both land and sea have been seized by force by the Armed Forces.

 "Next year, it would be the 10th anniversary since the brutal massacre at Mullivaikal. Let us dedicate the 18th of May, every year, as a day of mourning and as a symbol of our unity. Let us resolve that in the coming years we would bring all interest groups among us together, appoint an appropriate committee, devoid of political party affiliations and regional considerations, to organize an appropriate Day of Remembrance on 18th May in the coming years. Let us pray for peace to the souls of all those who died in Mullivaikal nine years ago."

 Those leaving the commemorative event at Mullivaikkal were offered cool drinks by the Army. Troops of the 68 Division, deployed in the Mullivaikkal area, provided the cool drinks. Those returning to the Jaffna peninsula, after having participated in the Mullivaikkal commemoration, were also provided refreshments by troops deployed at Iyyakachchi. The 55.2 Brigade is deployed in the Iyyakachchi area, a former LTTE stronghold, north of Elephant Pass.

Those at the Mullivaikkal commemoration had forgotten the origins of Tamil terrorism, fighting between various Tamil terrorist groups and Indian trained groups ‘exporting’ terrorism.

Institutional genocide

 It would be pertinent to mention that Wigneswaran broke ranks with the State about two years before the change of the Rajapaksa government. Mullivaikkal accusation that his community had been subjected to ‘institutional genocide’ must be examined against the backdrop of his long standing association with the State as a member of the judiciary, especially being a member of the Supreme Court for four years, beginning 2001. When did Wigneswaran realize institutional genocide was taking place? Did the Northern CM at least discuss his fears with Vasudeva Nanayakkara, whose daughter is married to one of his sons. Having served the judiciary for over three decades, Wigneswaran couldn’t have served successive administrations if institutional genocide took place as alleged. Or, did institutional genocide begin only after Wigneswaran retired as a member of the Supreme Court in late 2004? If that was the case, twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa could be accused of institutional genocide? Wigneswaran should explain institutional genocide undertaken by the Rajapaksa administration. It would be interesting to know whether the likes of Wigneswaran felt institutional genocide still continued even after the change of government, in January 2015.

Having launched a political career, in 2013, thanks to the TNA, Colombo-born Wigneswaran is now stepping up pressure on his original sponsors. Wigneswaran’s strategy is obvious. As the most prominent leader of the Tamil People’s Council (TPC), Wigneswaran is seeking to undermine the incumbent TNA leadership in the wake of those opposed to R. Sampanthan’s outfit making progress at the Feb. 10 Local Government polls. Wigneswaran has no option but to take a very strong anti-establishment stand to strengthen his campaign, both here and abroad.

As long as the government didn’t counter unsubstantiated war crimes allegations, propagated by interested parties, Sri Lanka will continue to be mauled at local political platforms and abroad. For want of a cohesive strategy, the armed forces had been flayed with Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) recommending far reaching security sector reforms in response to wild war crimes allegations.

Responsibility of the media

 The Sri Lanka Press Council (SLPC), in collaboration with the Information Department, organized a workshop on May 18 for the Colombo District print and electronic media provincial journalists. The workshop dealt with post-war national reconciliation process nine years after the war was brought to a successful conclusion on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon. The writer was invited to speak on the responsibility on the part of the media in national reconciliation process whereas Director General, Government Information Department attorney-at-law Sudarshana Gunawardena, former Irida Divaina editor now on the Presidential Secretariat staff Gamini Sumanasekera, Chairman of SLPC attorney-at-law Koggala Wellala Bandula and Senior Lecturer, Department of Mass Communication, University of Kelaniya Aruna Lokuliyana tackled related issues.

 The writer took advantage of the opportunity to stress that reconciliation wouldn’t have been a reality if the armed forces offensive against the LTTE failed on the Vanni front. Obviously, the incumbent government is reluctant to acknowledge that eradication militarily of the LTTE, consisted of Tamils, paved the way for national reconciliation. The TNA that had regained its legitimate right to represent the Tamil community in the wake of the LTTE’s defeat, too, is reluctant to accept the reality. Both the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government and the TNA still remain committed to the Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, in Oct. 2015.

Jaffna District TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran is on record as having said that the Geneva Resolution had been adopted on Oct 1, 2015, following tripartite negotiations, involving the Sri Lankan government, the US and the TNA. The MP declared that they had agreed for a hybrid court with foreign judges, prosecutors, defence attorneys and investigators.

The TNA, in a statement, issued on June 16, 2016, quoted MP Sumanthiran as having told the congressional hearing: "I was personally involved in the negotiations, with the United States of America also participating in that particular process. There were some doubts created, as to whether the Constitution of Sri Lanka would allow for foreign nationals to function as judges and we went into that question, clarified it, and said yes they can and that is how that phraseology was agreed upon. And so, to us having negotiated and compromised and agreed that there would be a hybrid tribunal to try these mass atrocities, it is not open for the government now to shift its stance and say "well, international involvement yes, but it’s in a different form, now...’. That is not acceptable to us all."

The writer raised the following matters with the gathering:

(1) National reconciliation not possible as long as the LTTE retained conventional military power

(2) Battlefield defeat of the LTTE paved the way for national reconciliation

(3) Eradication of the LTTE allowed the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi led TNA to recommence normal political activity

(4) The TNA had no option but to recognize the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil people

(5) Having backed the LTTE, until the very end of the war, in May 2009, the TNA switched its allegiance to war-winning Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka at the January 2010 presidential poll. Can there be a better example to prove the TNA never really believed Fonseka’s Army massacred civilians

(6) None of those shedding crocodile tears today for the Tamil people ever pleaded with the LTTE to release over 300,000 civilians held hostage on the Vanni east front as a human shield to protect the cornered rump of the LTTE

(7) Sri Lanka is the only country to co-sponsor in Geneva a Resolution against its own armed forces and wartime leadership on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations

(8) The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government deliberately avoided an opportunity to effectively disapprove war crimes accusations on the basis of wartime British High Commission dispatches (Jan-May 2009) revealed in the UK House of Lords in mid Oct 2017

(9) Failure on the part of lawmakers representing the government and the Opposition to use the late Subramanium Sivakamy aka ‘Colonel’ Thamilini’s memoirs ‘Thiyuni Asipathaka Sevana Yata’ to expose lies propagated by interested parties. The writer stressed the fact that civil society activists Dharmasiri Bandaranayake and Gamini Viyangoda together with Thamilini’s husband, a British national of Sri Lankan origin, launched memoirs after her demise. She succumbed to cancer while receiving treatment from Sinhala doctors. The writer suggested that SLPC and the Information Department make arrangements to provide the late Thamilini’s memoirs to journalists.

(10) The TNA and the LTTE facilitated the then PM Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory at the Nov. 2005 presidential polls by ordering the Tamil electorate not to exercise their franchise under any circumstances. Their move ensured Rajapaksa’s victory at the expense of UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe, who lost by less than 200,000 votes

(11) The LTTE felt confident dealing with Rajapaksa whom the LTTE and Tamil Diaspora believed lacked experience and international support to face the LTTE

(12) The LTTE believed that Jaffna could be regained and the Army pushed southwards to Anuradhapura within two years. The writer based this assessment on what Kumaran Pathmanathan told him in Colombo several months after he was captured in Malaysia and brought down to Sri Lanka

The gathering was also told that the media couldn’t be expected to reconcile communities at a time major political parties were at logger heads over post-war reconciliation process. Recent verbal exchange between Health Minister Cabinet Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne and two journalists at the post-cabinet press briefing highlighted the lack of understanding of the contentious issue of Mullaivaikkal commemoration. Dr. Senaratne earned the wrath of the Joint Opposition and was vilified in social media for comparing the JVP with the LTTE and recognizing the Tamils’ right to commemorate those who fought for the LTTE.

The writer told the Information Department gathering that the right of the Tamil people to commemorate fallen LTTE cadres should not be challenged. In fact, interference and sabotaging such commemorative events can be counterproductive and those in power should be mindful of the loss of sentiments. But the contentious issue is not Mullivaikkal commemoration but the cancellation of the annual Victory Day parade at the behest of Western powers. There cannot be any other instance of a country depriving itself of its right to celebrate victory over terrorism. Shame on those politicians who suspended the Victory Day celebrations.

Finally, it was also brought to the notice of the journalists and the panel comprising Sudarshana Gunawardena, Gamini Sumanasekera and Aruna Lokuliyana European Union launching post-war reconciliation project on March 21, 2018 worth Rs 2.7 bn. It was pointed out that the European Union, since 2017, had funded various reconciliation projects to the tune of a staggering Rs. 3.7 bn. Strangely, the EU as well as all those trying to facilitate reconciliation seemed to be determined not to use wartime British High Commission dispatches to prove that (1) 40,000 civilians hadn’t been killed as alleged in UN Panel of Experts’ report released on March 31, 2011 (2) political and military leaderships hadn’t instructed the fighting forces to deliberately target civilians trapped on the Vanni east front and (3) the Army willingly suffered losses as it took civilian factor into consideration as revealed by classified US diplomatic cable originating from its Geneva mission a few months after the conclusion of the war.

Although President Sirisena reiterated at the Armed Forces Commemoration, at Battaramulla, that the military hadn’t been accused of war crimes by the UN, his government co-sponsored the Geneva Resolution on Oct. 1, 2015, on the basis that such atrocities took place on the Vanni front, particularly after the fall of Kilinochchi. President Sirisena maintained that war crimes allegations were propagated by those connected to the LTTE living overseas. Obviously, the government seemed to have conveniently ignored the UN stand on the issue of accountability and pronouncements that the country faced the prospect of Universal Jurisdiction unless Sirisena-Wickremesinghe fulfilled the four key Geneva recommendations, in addition to a brand new Constitution subjected to a referendum. The four specific measures meant to address accountability issues are (1) a judicial mechanism with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international human rights law (2) A Commission for truth, justice, reconciliation and non-recurrence (3) An Office for Missing Persons (OMP) and (4) An Office for reparations.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Forgotten war victory

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 218

 

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Wartime General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the celebrated 58 Division and present Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva greeting visiting Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat at the entrance to the parade grounds at the Army Headquarters on Monday. The Indian Chief is on a week (May 13-18) long visit which coincided with Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism on May 19, nine years ago (pic courtesy army.lk)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has reduced the annual Victory Day parade to a mere commemoration ceremony for fallen officers and men, at Palaly, in the Jaffna peninsula.

Jointly organized by the Northern Province Governor Reginald Cooray’s Office and Ranaviru Seva Authority, in coordination with the Security Forces Headquarters, Jaffna, the brief ceremony, held on the morning of May 4, 2018, was certainly not quite enough to celebrate Sri Lanka’s biggest post-independence achievement.

Sri Lanka inaugurated the Victory Day parade, soon after bringing the war to a successful conclusion, on the morning of May 19, 2009, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, on the Vanni east front.

The annual event reflected the liberation of the Eastern Province (Aug 2006-July 2007) and the Northern Province (March 2007-May 2009).

The commemoration ceremony was held opposite the War Heroes’ monument, in Palaly, with the participation of Security Forces Commander Darshana Hettiarachchi. Northern Province Governor and former Member of Parliament Reginald Cooray, and Anoma Fonseka, wife of Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, now embroiled in a simmering controversy over his criticism of President and Commander-in-Chief Maithripala Sirisena, participated at the event.

Among the other invitees was Indian Consulate General in Jaffna, S. Balachandran. The decision to invite Jaffna-based Indian diplomat is debatable. Balachandran’s presence at the event was a grim reminder of the Indian covert and overt intervention in Sri Lanka, in the early ‘80s, leading to death and destruction on an unprecedented scale, before the eradication of terrorism, in the third week of May, nine years ago.

In fact, the recent Palaly commemoration ceremony can be compared with that of IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) officers and men killed at the hands of Indian-trained LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) terrorists in Oct. 1987.

Senior representatives of Security Forces headquarters, Mullaitivu and Security Forces headquarters, Kilinochchi, too, participated at the Palaly commemoration.

A report, headlined Northern Province remembers fallen war heroes, posted on army.lk four days after the event reflected the current thinking of the decision makers. The print media largely ignored the event. However, Northern Governor Cooray should be commended for recalling tremendous sacrifices made by the military to restore normalcy. Having underscored that peace wouldn’t have been a reality without the armed forces efforts, Cooray also referred to their post-war commitments.

Decision makers are of the opinion that separate low key commemoration ceremonies can be held at provincial level during May. The bottom line is that the shameless government gave in to Western pressure to do away with the annual Victory Parade. Some Colombo-based diplomats worked overtime to discourage the then government to call off the event.

Lanka succumbs to Western pressure

On behalf of all those, who had been pursuing war crimes allegations since the conclusion of the war, against the Sri Lankan military, Canada in 2014 demanded the cancellation of the parade. Sri Lanka quite rightly rejected that blatant Canadian interference in purely a domestic matter. Although The Island had carried a threatening Canadian statement, issued ahead of the fifth Victory Day parade to be held in Matara, let me reproduce the same again.

In the run-up to the 2014 Victory Day parade, in Matara, Canada publicly declared that it wouldn’t be represented. It was the fifth Victory Day parade held amidst stepped up international pressure.

Canadian High Commissioner in Colombo, Shelly Whiting, in a strongly worded statement, issued exclusively to ‘The Island’, explained the Canadian decision to boycott the event. The writer front-paged Whiting’s statement, in the May 16, 2014 edition of The Island. The then Military spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya explained Sri Lanka’s right to continue with the Victory Day parade, on the following day.

The following is the text of Shelly’s statement, headlined ‘Canada to boycott Victory Day parade’ with strap line ‘such events won’t help post war national reconciliation’: "As in past years, heads of mission, resident in Sri Lanka, have recently received invitations to participate in this year’s Victory Parade, scheduled to be held, in Matara, on May 18. As Canadian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, part of my role includes celebrating the successes of the country, alongside the Sri Lankan people. However, I will not be attending the Victory Day Parade on May 18. Some commentators will no doubt rush to judge and erroneously conclude that I am doing so out of some misplaced nostalgia for the LTTE. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let me be clear the LTTE was a scourge that brought untold suffering to this island nation and all its people.

Prior to arriving in Sri Lanka, my previous assignment was in Afghanistan where I saw first-hand the terrorist tactics (use of suicide bombers, IEDs) that are sadly the LTTE’s legacy to the world. The LTTE and its supporters were ruthless and single-minded, and did not faithfully represent the political aspirations of the communities they purported to represent. Canada joined the world in welcoming the defeat of the LTTE, in 2009. In fact, the LTTE has been proscribed as a terrorist entity in Canada since 2006. To help stop the flow of funding to the LTTE, Canada further proscribed the World Tamil Movement (WTM) in 2008. Both of these organizations remain banned in Canada today.

However, five years after the end of the conflict, the time has arrived for Sri Lanka to move past wartime discourse and to start working seriously towards reconciliation. It is time to mend relations between communities and to ensure that all Sri Lankans can live in dignity and free from discrimination, based on ethnic, religious or linguistic identities. Fathers and daughters, sons and mothers, all were victims, who were killed or never returned home at the end of the conflict. No community here – whether Sinhalese or Tamil, Muslim or Burgher – was spared during the conflict. In this vein, Canada has encouraged the Government of Sri Lanka to retire its annual Victory Day Parade, which perpetuates roles of victors and vanquished within the country, for a day of remembrance for all those who suffered as a result of the conflict. Indeed, Sri Lanka’s own homegrown Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report recommends that a solemn day of remembrance for all victims of the war would be more conducive to sustaining peace here. Such a gesture would go a long way towards putting wartime posturing behind Sri Lanka.

I will not be in Matara, but I will be thinking and remembering all those who lost their loved ones over the 30-year conflict."

SLA in a dilemma

Joint Opposition (JO) never really challenged the government decision to cancel the Victory Day parade. Twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa, over the last weekend, referred to the cancellation at a function, held at a temple, though his political outfit was yet to take up the issue, forcefully.

In fact, parliament never really challenged the war crimes accusations propagated by various interested parties since the conclusion of the conflict and inquired into the circumstances leading to the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration decision to co-sponsor Geneva Resolution on Oct 1. 2015. The shameless decision to cancel the Victory Day parade should be examined against the backdrop of the unanimous adoption of the Resolution: Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has, subsequently, and repeatedly, reiterated its commitment to the 30/1. Sri Lanka never sought to challenge unsubstantiated war crimes allegations even after the revelation of war time British High Commission dispatches that contradicted the very basis for the Geneva Resolution.

Sri Lanka meekly gave up its right to celebrate its greatest achievement. By doing so even before agreeing to co-sponsor the Geneva Resolution, the current government betrayed the armed forces. The War-winning Rajapaksa government, too, should accept responsibility for the unfortunate situation. The Rajapaksa administration lacked a clear strategy to address accountability issues, thereby unintentionally facilitated high profile project meant to bring in selected armed forces officers, regiments and fighting formations to disrepute. The previous government didn’t at least bother to closely examine specific allegations directed at the military and the political leadership. The Rajapaksas’ failure certainly helped Western powers and their associates here to trap Sri Lanka. Their despicable project succeeded in January 2015. Soon after the change of government and the massive robbery at the Central Bank, the military was told of the decision to cancel the Victory Day parade. The government never explained why the Victory Day parade cannot be held.

Although President Maithripala Sirisena repeatedly claimed that he had been able to save the armed forces from UN strictures and action taken by individual countries, the Sri Lanka Army is now struggling to cope up with war crimes accusations.

President Sirisena, in the presence of Army Chief Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake and Defence Secretary Kapila Waidyaratne, last November assured the Army that tangible action would be taken to sort out problems. Presidential assurance was given in the wake of Australia denying a visa to Gajaba Regiment veteran Maj. Gen. Chagi Gallage for commanding the 59 Division on the Vanni east front. Gallage took over the Division on May 7, 2009-12 days before the conclusion of the conflict.

In response to inquiries made by Gallage, the Australian High Commission has stated that troops under his command certainly committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection has extensively cited Report of the OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) on Sri Lanka (OISL) to turn down Gallege’s visa. On the basis of the OISL report, Geneva adopted Resolution 30/1 to pave the way for foreign judges in a domestic judicial mechanism.

Australia also cited the UNSG Panel of Experts (PoE) report on accountability issues released on March 31, 2011. POE accused Sri Lanka of massacring over 40,000 civilians and depriving the Vanni population of their basic needs. The combined security forces brought the war to a successful conclusion on May 19, 2009.

The government turned a blind eye to Gallage’s predicament. Since then the situation has worsened, further with now the Army struggling to save its mission in Lebanon. Interested parties had protested against the appointment of Lt. Col. Rathnappuli Wasantha Kumara Hewage as the Commanding Officer of the 12th Force Protection Company (FPC) for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). They had found fault with Hewage for being involved in operations in the Vanni region. They had also accused Sri Lanka of not subjecting some of those personnel already dispatched to Lebanon to vetting procedures carried out by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL). In addition to those already sent to Lebanon in trouble over not being subjected to HRCSL vetting, the 101-strong contingent, assigned for Lebanon, is yet to leave on its assignment.

Recent statement attributed to Lt. Gen. Senanayake clearly indicated SLA’s frustration as well as lack of understanding of the situation. Let me reproduce an AFP piece by Amal Jayasinghe based on Senanayake’s address to Colombo-based foreign correspondents: "The Sri Lankan army has formed a special unit to defend itself against allegations of grave human rights abuses at the end of the country’s decades-long ethnic war.

Army chief Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake said the group would collate local and international reports, and establish the truth to clear the military’s name.

International rights groups accuse the military of killing 40,000 Tamil civilians in the final months of the war which ended in May 2009. The government of the time said not one civilian was killed.

"Different people have been saying different things, but our voice has not been heard."

"That is why I set up the special directorate of overseas operations to prepare our position."

Senanayake distanced the military from the previous claims that no civilians died, and acknowledged there may have been individual excesses.

"If someone says they know of specific instances (of rights violations) we are ready to investigate," Senanayake said. "I am not going to look the other way. I want to clear the name of the army." He said there were conflicting claims of casualties from the 37-year-old Tamil separatist war.

"Different units of the army involved in the final offensive maintained figures of casualties. I want to collate all that.

"I know the (then) government said no civilian was killed, but it was not our voice. We never said that. This time, we want to come back with our story."

He said the 236,000-strong army wanted to clear its name and play a bigger role in UN international peacekeeping.

The government has said it lost at least 26,000 soldiers in the war with another 37,000 wounded. About 20,000 of the injured ended up with a permanent disability.

The Tamil Tiger rebels also lost heavily and the entire guerrilla leadership was wiped out in the military onslaught.

The government under then president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who ordered the offensive, faced international censure for refusing to acknowledge what the UN called credible allegations.

The administration which came to power in January 2015 said it was willing to investigate and pay reparations to victims, but progress has been extremely slow."

Colombo page quoted Senanayake as having said in the absence of adequate support from those outside the army, the army considers it necessary to have an organization or a think tank of its own, to defend the institution in the context of the grave charges and the defense has to be carried out with facts and figures.

"That is why I set up the special directorate of overseas operations to prepare our position," Senanayake said acknowledging that there may have been individual excesses.

Herculean task

Current Army leadership should be first convinced that systematic massacre of Vanni civilians didn’t take place as alleged by the UN on the basis of unproved and uncorroborated allegations. It’ll have to convince the political leadership to take up its case as the matter should be taken up in Geneva. The Army cannot ignore the fact that its dealings with the HRCSL will be guided by current UN assessment as regards the Army on the basis of war crimes allegations.

The British High Commission wartime dispatches from Sri Lanka should be the basis for its defence though the government turned a blind eye to immensely valuable revelations, along with those foreign news agencies that routinely refer to unsubstantiated war crimes allegations and continues to remain silent on Lord Naseby’s revelations.

The Army should examine those British dispatches along with wartime US Defence attache Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith’s statement as regards ‘white flag’ executions and alleged surrender agreement between the then government and the LTTE, made over two years after the conclusion of the war.

It would be interesting to know whether the Army would explore the possibility of obtaining a copy of UN report on the Vanni war that dealt with loss of lives from Aug 2008 to May 13, 2009, Wiki Leaks cables on Sri Lanka war as well as correspondence between the government and various diplomatic missions. Let me reproduce one such critically important letter dated Feb. 16, 2009 written by the then Norwegian Ambassador Tore Hattrem to presidential advisor Basil Rajapaksa.

The following is the text of Ambassador Hattrem’s letter, addressed to Basil Rajapaksa: "I refer to our telephone conversation today. The proposal to the LTTE on how to release the civilian population, now trapped in the LTTE controlled area, has been transmitted to the LTTE through several channels. So far, there has been, regrettably, no response from the LTTE and it doesn’t seem to be likely that the LTTE will agree with this in the near future."



Correction

In last week’s piece headlined ‘How UK manipulated RTI law to deny Lanka chance to counter war crimes allegations’ it was inadvertently mentioned that Lord Naseby requested Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) for classified wartime dispatches from the British High Commission in Colombo on Nov. 6, 2016, a year after the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government co-sponsored Geneva Resolution against Sri Lanka, and seven years after the successful conclusion of the war. The request was made on Nov 6, 2014, nearly a year before Sri Lanka co-sponsored Geneva Resolution 30/1, much to the disappointment of the country, and five years after the end of the conflict.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

How UK manipulated RTI law to deny Lanka chance to counter war crimes allegations

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 217

 

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Norwegian Ambassador Thorbjørn Gaustadsæther and Chairman, Sri Lanka Press Institute Kumar Nadesan at the inauguration of ‘Empowering Citizens with RTI’ on Tueaday (May 8) at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS). Norway funded the two-day conference. (pictures by Sujatha Jayaratne)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Having adopted the Freedom of Information Act, way back in 1970, Norway is now ranked 67 in the Global Right to Information Rating, maintained by the Center for Law and Democracy.

Sri Lanka enacted the Right to Information Act, No. 12 of 2016, a year after the change of the war-winning Rajapaksa administration. The UNP, and a section of the civil society and media, campaigned for the right to information (RTI) law though they couldn’t convince the previous government to introduce the Right to Information Act. However, since the adoption of the right to information law, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration has quickly reached third position in international rankings. The government and all those who had campaigned for RTI law consider it a key good governance administration’s achievement.

According to the Global Right to Information Rating, the top 10 countries are Mexico, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Slovenia, India, Albania, Croatia, Liberia, El Salvador and Sierra Leone.

The UK is ranked 35, way ahead of Norway, while the US stands at 56.

The Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) has received financial backing from Norway to organize a two-day conference on the RTI, themed ‘Empowering Citizens with RTI – the first year’ in Colombo on May 8 and 9, 2018. The event marks the first anniversary of the implementation of the Right to Information Act in Sri Lanka and the World Press Freedom day.

The following is part of a press release issued by the SLPI, on May 3: "The two-day conference, which will be held at the Institute of Policy Studies, Independence Avenue, Colombo 07, will be covering a series of thematic sessions on risk and safety of information seekers, privacy data protection, the role of civil society and media, future of RTI law and technicalities in information disclosure. RTI experts from Norway, India, Mexico, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Myanmar, along with Sri Lankan experts, from the RTI Commission, advocates from the civil society organizations, good governance promoters and leading journalists are scheduled to speak at the thematic sessions.

Representatives of ministries, civil society organizations, and internationally and locally renowned RTI activists will attend the conference. This will create a platform for civil society organizations, the public sector and the media to interact in creating the way forward of RTI in Sri Lanka.

Right to Information (RTI) Act was put into effect in Sri Lanka on 03 February, 2017, and the bill was passed by the Cabinet of Ministers in August, 2016. By organizing the international conference the SLPI hopes to capture lessons learnt of the RTI practice in the country within the first year it was implemented."

Colombo-based NGOs (civil society) groups, including Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA), National Peace Council (NPC) and Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) pushed for the RTI law. Sri Lanka’s RTI provides for citizens or organizations, comprising more than 75 per cent of Sri Lankans, to seek information from those NGOs receiving funds from overseas. Colombo Telegraph in a revealing report headlined Colombo Telegraph challenges CPA under the RTI Act-Colombo NGOs yet to appoint Information Officers! posted on March 3, 2017, pointed out the failure on the part of some of those who had campaigned for the RTI law to comply with it. (CT report can be accessed https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/colombo-telegraph-challenges-cpa-under-rti-act-colombo-ngos-yet-to-appoint-information-officers/)

UK Freedom of Information Act to Sri Lanka’s rescue

In spite of propagating the value of the RTI law here, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration and those foreign-funded NGOs never wanted to take advantage of information that had been obtained by a foreigner under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) UK to successfully counter unsubstantiated war crimes allegations directed at Sri Lanka. Michael Wolfgang Laurence Morris (Baron Naseby) is his name. As the SLPI, with the backing of Norway, mark the first year anniversary of the RTI law, it would be pertinent to examine Sri Lanka’s pathetic failure to exploit crucial information obtained by Lord Naseby with the intervention of the Information Commissioner’s Office, UK. Sri Lanka could have successfully used the information obtained by Lord Naseby to counter lies propagated by the UN, Western powers, some NGOs and a section of the Tamil community. But Sri Lanka did not. Instead of using Lord Naseby’s disclosure to its advantage, the incumbent government is struggling to suppress available information. Perhaps, the SLPI-Norway latest venture can discuss Sri Lanka’s failure to properly use information obtained through some other system as the latter facilitated peace talks between Sri Lanka and the LTTE, in the run up to the eelam war IV.

Norway intervened in Sri Lanka on the invitation of the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and the LTTE in 2001. The LTTE made an assassination bid on Kumaratunga in Dec. 2001 while Norwegian-facilitated secret negotiations were taking place. Norway entered the scene formally with the signing of a Ceasefire Agreement, on Feb. 21, 2002, between Sri Lanka and the LTTE. The LTTE quit the negotiating table in April 2003. The LTTE launched an all-out war in August 2006 expecting a swift and decisive victory. In spite of initial success on both the northern and eastern theaters, the armed forces turned the tide quickly and eventually brought the LTTE to its knees in May 2009.

In March 2010, the UN, on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations, alleged that Sri Lanka massacred over 40,000 Tamil civilians.

In Oct. 2015, Sri Lanka co-sponsored Geneva Resolution 30/1 directed against the country.

In Oct. 2017, Lord Naseby disclosed in the House of Lords how the UK, a current member of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) suppressed information that could have cleared Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry ignored Lord Naseby’s disclosure, based on wartime dispatches (January-May 2009) from the British High Commission in Colombo. Instead, initially, the Foreign Ministry sought to dismiss Naseby’s revelations. The British High Commission, too, made a pathetic bid to brush aside the House of Lords’ revelation. Basically, Lord Naseby, on the basis of the UK High Commission dispatches, asserted there was no basis for the over 40,000 death toll claim and most importantly Sri Lanka political and military leadership had no intention of deliberately targeting civilians on the Vanni east front.

The role of UK Information Commissioner’s Office

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) made a desperate bid to deprive Lord Naseby of required information. Obviously, the FCO realized that the revelation of wartime dispatches could jeopardize the high profile UN project meant to replace Sri Lanka’s Constitution. Geneva declared, in 2016, that Sri Lanka should have a new Constitution. In fact, the change of government, in January 2015, was to facilitate the UN project, spearheaded by the US-UK combine. The Constitution making process is still in progress though the government is in deepening political turmoil.

It would be pertinent to examine the circumstances leading to Lord Naseby’s disclosure in the House of Lords, in Oct. 2017. Let me discuss the developments on the basis of what the UK Information Officer’s Office called a ‘decision notice,’ dated May 4, 2016, that dealt with Lord Naseby’s efforts to secure information from the FCO.

Lord Naseby made his request to FCO on Nov. 6, 2016, a year after the Sri Lanka co-sponsored Geneva Resolution against Sri Lanka, and seven years after the successful conclusion of the war. The FCO, on Dec. 3, 2014, informed Lord Naseby that it had the required information though it needed time to consider the Conservative Party politician’s request. Obviously Naseby’s request rattled the FCO. On January 5, 2015, FCO told that his request couldn’t be granted. Lord Naseby, on January 14, 2015, requested for an internal review of the decision. The FCO informed Lord Naseby, on Feb. 19, 2015, that the decision couldn’t be changed. Lord Naseby complained to FCO on March 16, 2015. The FCO on May 7, 2015 reiterated its original decision to deprive Lord Naseby of the requested information. Interestingly, the FCO, on Dec. 21, 2015, offered to provide a section of the previously withheld documents claiming that the move was made possible due to the releasing of Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report on the investigation on Sri Lanka on Sept. 15, 2015. However, the FCO withheld a substantial section of the requested documents on the basis of Sections 27 (1) (a), 31 and 41 of FOIA.

Having received a part of the requested documents, Lord Naseby had raised concerns with the Information Commissioner’s Office that the FCO could be still holding documents that could be released. Subsequently, the FCO released three more censored documents on Feb. 23, 2016. The three documents were dated April 7, 25 and 26, 2009.

The FCO wouldn’t have released any documents if not for Lord Naseby seeking the intervention of the Information Commissioner’s Office. Lord Naseby got in touch with the Information Commissioner’s Office, on June 10, 2015, five months after the last presidential election brought an end to the Rajapaksa rule. Following Rajapaksa’s defeat, President Maithripala Sirisena, as agreed in the run up to the presidential poll, invited UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to form a new government. Violating all parliamentary norms, Wickremesinghe was sworn in as the Prime Minister, in spite of having the backing of less than 50 members. The SLFP-led UPFA had a staggering two-thirds majority in parliament with the SLFP group alone comprising 126 members.

If Naseby’s disclosure was made before Jan 8, 2015 prez poll…

Had the classified Sri Lanka wartime British High Commission dispatches come to the public domain before the last presidential poll, the UNP-led coalition against twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa could have suffered irreparable damage.

The British dispatches could have been successfully used to counter war crimes allegations directed at the Rajapaksas. Interestingly, Lord Naseby made his move to secure vital documents from the FCO, two weeks before Rajapaksa announced early presidential polls on the completion of four years of his six-year term. The British would have certainly realized the danger in releasing their own diplomatic cables that challenged the very ‘regime change’ operation they were involved in. Those dispatches could have been used to easily challenge or perhaps even destroyed the case being build against Sri Lanka on the basis of unproven war crimes accusations. One-time LTTE mouthpiece, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) threw its weight behind the UNP operation in the guise of seeking an end to the murderous Rajapaksa regime responsible for tens of thousands of Tamil deaths. The 2010 UNP-led coalition for the presidential poll, too, was built on the same basis. Don’t forget the British knew that over 40,000 civilians didn’t perish on the Vanni east front when war-winning Army Chief Gen. Sarath Fonseka confronted President Rajapaksa at the January 2010 polls.

On the basis of unproven war crimes accusations, the UNP warned the Sri Lanka electorate that a victory for Rajapaksa could result in crippling international sanctions. Those who had campaigned for the Rajapaksas ouster in 2014-2015 propagated the lie that only Maithripala Sirisena victory could save Sri Lanka. The British refrained from releasing wartime British High Commission dispatches until the conclusion of the August 2015 parliamentary polls.

Sri Lanka never examined the British strategy. Interestingly, the British declared that the UK wanted a change of government in Sri Lanka. That declaration was made at the Geneva sessions. The British project was simple. It was essentially meant to appease the UK citizens, of Sri Lankan origins, to secure their support at elections. No less a person than one-time British Foreign Secretary David Miliband is on record as having explained to UK based US diplomat how he played politics with Sri Lanka issue during the last phase of the war.

Those who had been demanding that Sri Lanka address accountability issues never faulted the government for not seeking clarification from the British. They feared the British dispatches could clear Sri Lanka and place the high profile international project in difficulty.

Former British Premier David Cameron went to the extent of threatening to haul Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes tribunal unless President Mahinda Rajapaksa addressed accountability issues before the March 2014 Geneva sessions. The British ultimatum was given in Colombo on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November, 2013. Premier Cameron insisted that Sri Lanka would have to face the consequences, in spite of it being at the helm of the Commonwealth, unless it addressed accountability issues.

Cameron couldn’t have been unaware of the British High Commission dispatches from Colombo. Cameron certainly did.

The FCO declined to disclose dispatches on the basis that the revelation could jeopardize UK relations with Sri Lanka. It was nothing but a blatant lie. The FCO, at the behest of its political masters, suppressed dispatches and censored some of those released to Lord Naseby as they certainly exposed their lie. The disclosure would have surely strengthened UK’s relations with Sri Lanka at the expense of its own domestic political arrangements with the Tamil Diaspora and also undermined the US political project to ensure a Sri Lanka government within its orbit.

According to Information Commissioner’s Office, the FCO censored sections of the British High Commission dispatches that were handed over to Lord Naseby under 27 (1) (a) of FOIA on the basis that full disclosure could prejudice relations between the UK and Sri Lanka. But the reality was that the disclosure could have certainly cleared the misunderstanding between two Commonwealth member states. If the disclosure could have undermined UK-Sri Lanka relations, the UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF) would have done so immediately after the conclusion of the conflict. In fact, citizens, of the US, Canada, France, Norway, Australia, Germany, Sweden and South Africa (of Sri Lanka origin) would have sought wartime dispatches from their diplomatic missions in Colombo or New Delhi, authorized to represent a particular country.

Had the FCO released the relevant documents before the last presidential poll or the August 2015 parliamentary election, the Yahapalana coalition would have suffered at both hustings.

TNA responsibility

Perhaps those foreign RTI experts and their local counterparts invited for the two-day event in Colombo, should examine the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) UK in relation to Sri Lanka post-war reconciliation process. Although the war was brought to a successful conclusion, nine years ago, reconciliation couldn’t be achieved due to allegations regarding massacre of Tamils on the Vanni east front, in 2009. Lord Naseby called for a review of Geneva Resolution following his disclosure in the UK parliament in Oct. last year.

The TNA hasn’t responded to The Island queries regarding Lord Naseby’s call to amend the Geneva Resolution 30/1. The Island submitted the following questions to TNA and Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan, on Nov. 27, 2017, and repeatedly reminded the Opposition Leader’s Office of the delay on its part to respond to the queries. The following questions were posed to Sampanthan: Have you (TNA) studied Lord Naseby’s statement made in the House of Lords on Oct. 12, 2017, What is TNA’s position on Naseby’s findings?, Did TNA leaders discuss Naseby’s assertion among themselves? Did TNA respond to MP Dinesh Gunawardena’s statements in parliament on Naseby’s disclosure? And did TNA take up this issue with the UK High Commissioner James Dauris?

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Wartime elimination of UNP leadership

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 216

 

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2018 Premadasa commemoration at Aluthkade (L) Dulanjalee, Hema, Wickremesinghe, Sirisena and Sajith

(pic Sujatha Jayaratne)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) held a successful May Day rally in Jaffna yesterday. In Colombo, a commemorative event was held near Aluthkade court complex to mark the 25th death anniversary of the late President, Ranasinghe Premadasa, assassinated by the LTTE near the Armour Street police station as he was leading the UNP May Day procession, in 1993. The UNPer was 69 years at the time of his assassination.

Among those present at the Aluthkade event, organized by the late Premadasa’s family, were President Maithripala Sirisena and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe. From there, they rushed to the Presidential Secretariat where the much delayed cabinet reshuffle took place amidst continuing political turmoil resulting from the massive drubbing received at the Feb. 10 Local Government polls.

Last week, Regional Development Minister, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, delivered the Lalith Athulathmudali commemoration speech at the BMICH. Athulathmudali was assassinated on the night of April 23, 1993, at Kirulapone. One-time National Security Minister Athulathmudali was 57 at the time of his assassination.

Fonseka, Sri Lanka’s most successful Army Chief, lamented the demise of Athulathmudali whose assassination was blamed on Premadasa by a section of the then UNP leader’s political opponents. The police, however, believed the LTTE carried out the assassination. A Commission, appointed by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, following the presidential poll in Nov. 1994, pointed the finger at Premadasa and some persons close to him. The Commission report was released in Oct. 1997.

The LTTE assassinated UNP dissident Athulathmudali and UNP leader Premadasa within 10 days in April-May 1993, in the run-up to the Western Provincial Council polls. The assassinations were meant to plunge the country into chaos, amidst the simmering ‘battle’ between the UNP and the dissident group, led by Athulathmudali, and Gamini Dissanayake - top ministers of the JRJ administration. The LTTE assassinated Dissanayake at Thotalanga along with several top rungers of the UNP, on the night of Oct 23, 1994. Dissanayake, 52, was the UNP presidential election candidate at the time of his assassination. Athulathmudali’s assassination paved the way for Dissanayake to return to the fold at the expense of Ranil Wickremesinghe and secure the UNP presidential candidature with the blessings of the then President D.B. Wijetunga.

The Dissanayake assassination took place between the parliamentary and presidential polls, in 1994, however talks between the Kumaratunga administration and the LTTE continued despite the dastardly act of the latter. In spite of the assassination, Kumaratunga went ahead with direct peace negotiations. The LTTE resumed the war with devastating missile attacks on a transport aircraft, blasting several Navy craft berthed at Trincomalee, killing 100s of armed forces officers and men, in late April, 1995.

Gamini returns to the fold

Today, many had forgotten the circumstances under which Dissanayake returned to the UNP, following Premadasa’s assassination. The demise of Premadasa and Athulathmudali led to the swift realization that Dissanayake could return to the UNP, through the National List, after a brief tussle with the Ranil Wickremesinghe camp take over the parliamentary group and be the candidate at the scheduled presidential polls the following year.

Wijetunga declared Dissanayake the winner following a secret ballot held among the UNP parliamentary group, in late Aug. 1994, in the wake of Kumaratunga leading the SLFP-led People’s Alliance (PA) to victory at the Aug. 16, 1994 parliamentary polls. Wijetunga declared Dissanayake the winner by three votes. The UNP parliamentary group comprised 94 members. Having initially named Dissanayake as the UNP parliamentary group leader, a section of the party cleverly manipulated the parliamentary group and the Working Group to name Dissanayake the presidential candidate.

Close on the heels of Premadasa’s assassination, Wickremesinghe shifted from Gampaha to Colombo as he sought to consolidate his position.

The LTTE exploited the political situation in Colombo to further destabilize the government. Political assassinations were key element in that strategy. It would be pertinent to examine despicable LTTE strategies that crippled major political parties, caused uncertainty and instability. The UNP never recovered from those targeted killings, carried out by the LTTE.

At the time of those high profile assassinations of UNP leaders, the LTTE directed its operations from Jaffna. In fact, the military held Elephant Pass, Palaly and Kankesanthurai while the LTTE controlled the rest of the Jaffna peninsula. Having lost the overland Main Supply Route (MSR) to Jaffna, in June 1990, the armed forces struggled to maintain Jaffna presence with supplies moved by sea and air.

Fonseka’s Army restored the MSR, in January 2009, though the peninsula was brought under government control in early 1996 during Kumaratunga’s presidency.

The JVP May Day rally, in Jaffna, certainly reminded the country of the restoration of normalcy almost a decade ago. Next week, the SLFP will hold its May Day rally in Batticaloa, once an LTTE stronghold where the group maintained strong presence until Fonseka’s Army brought the Eastern Province under the government control, in mid 2007. The Eastern Province had never been completely brought under State control before though from time to time successive governments conducted operations.

Annihilation of a political party

The first prominent politician, assassinated by the LTTE, was an SLFPer. Attorney-at-law, Mayor of Jaffna and former MP Alfred Thangarajah Duraiappah was assassinated in the north on July 27, 1975. Duraiappah, 49, was shot dead outside the Varadarajah Perumal temple at Ponnalai. Although, the SLFP lost Duraiappah, its top leadership survived though the LTTE almost succeeded in assassinating Kumaratunga on the night of Dec 19, 2001, at her final presidential election campaign rally. On the same day, the LTTE assassinated retired Maj. Gen. Lucky Algama, a former Army Chief of Staff, at a UNP rally at Ja-Ela. Kumaratunga survived the suicide blast. Algama, one of those officers who had the courage to execute a bloody campaign against the JVP, wasn’t lucky. The armed forces brought the JVP to its knees, in early 1990, with the elimination of almost all its top leaders, including Rohana Wijeweera, in Nov. 1989.

The current crisis in the UNP should be examined in the context of the LTTE killings. Before the LTTE claimed the lives of Athulathmudali (April 23, 1993), Premadasa (May Day, 1993) and Dissanayake (Oct. 23, 1994), it blasted Ranjan Wijeratne on March 2, 1991, in Colombo. Wijeratne, 60, was the General Secretary of the party at the time of his assassination. Premadasa loyalist B. Sirisena Cooray succeeded Wijeratne and held that post until the assassination of Premadasa whose successor Wijetunga sought Cooray’s resignation. Wijetunga brought in Dr. Gamini Wijesekera as the UNP General Secretary, who perished with Dissanayake at Thotalanga. Wijetunga purged the party of Premadasa loyalists though the late leader had made him the Prime Minister at the expense of the unity of the party. Premadasa’s move angered an influential section of the UNP. That led to Athulathmudali and Dissanayake quitting the UNP to form their own political outfit.

The Havelock Road blast claimed the lives of about 20 civilians and several police bodyguards attached to the then Deputy Defence Minister’s guard. Wijeratne, widely considered No. 2 in the Premadasa administration, vowed to defeat the LTTE though he never received the required political backing. Premadasa believed in a negotiated settlement in spite of the LTTE resuming hostilities, in June 1990. In the wake of the LTTE’s treachery, Wijeratne declared in parliament: "I am going all out for the LTTE. I never do anything in half measures." Some speculated Wijeratne’s assassination couldn’t have been carried out without inside help.

Wijeratne dealt ruthlessly with the JVP. However, Wijeratne lacked the wherewithal to destroy the LTTE. The then UNP leadership never felt the requirement to increase the Army’s strength or firepower. As Field Marshal Fonseka pointed out at the Athulathmudali commemorative event the other day, the UNP Minister in charge of finance in the JRJ government, deprived Athulathmudali of the much required finances. Fonseka discussed difficulties confronted by Athulathmudali and his first and only official meeting with the then National Security Minister, in 1986, at the time he was a Major.

Kumaratunga, who was also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, provided tremendous boost to the military. Although, Kumaratunga lacked the foresight to increase the strength of the Army, or additional vessels for the Navy, she authorized acquisition of Kfirs (1996), MiG 27s (2000) and Mi 24s (1995) as well as a range of other armaments, including multi barrel rocket launchers. But, the armed forces couldn’t deliver until Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed presidency. The war victory achieved within three years could never have been possible if not for former Gajaba Regiment veteran Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s return from the US to coordinate the war effort as Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. The LTTE made an abortive bid to assassinate Gotabhaya Rajapaksa on the morning of Dec. 1, 2006, as government forces were struggling in the Eastern Province. Had the LTTE succeeded, it could have dealt an irreparable damage to the war effort as devastating as the attempted assassination of Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, inside army headquarters, on the afternoon of April 25, 2006.

Had the LTTE succeeded in eliminating Fonseka and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka could have probably lost the war. The LTTE developed the assassination of political as well as military leaders as part of its overall strategy meant to overwhelm the government. In May 2016, Fonseka, in parliament, alleged Gotabhaya Rajapaksa ‘stage managed’ a suicide assassination attempt on himself in a bid to win public sympathy for his family. Fonseka declared "No terrorist will set off a suicide bomb 25 meters away from the intended target," Fonseka told parliament during a debate on reducing the security contingent provided to the former Defence Secretary.

Controversy over assassination of a President

The LTTE thrived on conspiracy theories. Unsubstantiated allegations caused turmoil among the majority community. The LTTE acted swiftly and decisively to manipulate rapidly developing situations. The August 8, 1992 blast that killed the then Northern Commander Maj. Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Brig. Wijaya Wimalaratne was blamed on Premadasa. Some alleged Wimalaratne had planned the mine blast at the behest of Premadasa. The Araly Point blast wiped out a group of experienced officers, much loved and respected Kobbekaduwa and Wimalaratne, the latter known for his battlefield exploits. Likewise, Premadasa’s assassination, too, fueled suspicion with his family demanding an explanation from the then UNP government.

Premadasa’s daughter, Dulanjalee, in an exclusive interview with the writer following the May Day assassination, said that the family couldn’t accept the LTTE as the perpetrator unless the government/law enforcement authorities provided evidence. Dulanjalee declared that she had no option but to raise the issue with Wijetunga as police investigations into her father’s assassination were conducted in a thoroughly unprofessional and haphazard manner. She called for the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry. An irate Dulanjalee alleged that those who had benefited from her father never bothered to look after the family after the assassination. She hinted at complicity of someone/a group in her father’s entourage facilitating the assassination. The slain Head of State’s daughter wrote to Wijetunga on May 12, 1994. She made a copy of that letter available to the writer at Shirohana’s, where the interview took place (Dulanjalee refuses to accept Premadasa killed by LTTE, wants full scale probe-The Island, May 19, 1994).

Subsequently, Dulanjalee sought an explanation from Wijetunga as to the number of suspects arrested in connection with her father’s assassination. Dulanjalee’s second letter to Wijetunga followed soon after she received a letter from the then Secretary to the President, K. H. A. Wijedasa, dated May 19, 1994.

Having declined to appoint a Commission of Inquiry, Wijetunga released his response to Dulanjalee’s letter dated May 12, 1994 to the media. The writer received a call from Wijedasa, who emphasized the pivotal importance of carrying President Wijetunga’s response in full to set the record straight. The Island carried Wijetunga’s response in its May 27, 1994, edition.

The UNP never explained why the scene of the May Day crime was scrubbed clean within an hour after the blast. Such a murder site had never been cleared before. In previous cases, the police swiftly cordoned off the scene of the incident to ensure a required environment to facilitate investigations. Let me reproduce the relevant section verbatim from Dulanjalee’s letter dated May 21, 1994, to Wijetunga: "The purpose of my requesting a Commission of Inquiry is due to the mysterious circumstances under which the assassination took place and the unprofessional and haphazard manner in which the investigations were carried out. A particular aspect where much doubt had been expressed, is the manner in which the site of the assassination at Armour Street was cleared and washed within an hour after the assassination. From what I gather it is the normal practice to cordon off any premises where any murder takes place. However, in the case of the death of the Head of State of Sri Lanka, it was cleared within such a short space of time without allowing time for further clues to be followed up apart from the initial investigations. Even the Scotland Yard investigators who were in the country inquiring into the killing of Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali at the time expressed surprise as to why the site was cleared in such a hurry. Even the site of Mr. Athulathmudali’s killing was cordoned off till the investigations were fully completed."

Dulanjalee also pointed out that the CID had taken over the investigation only on May 12, 1994, nearly two weeks after the assassination.

In the wake of Dulanjalee’s salvos, Premadasa’s son was brought in to the decision making Working Committee but the UNP deprived Hema Premadasa an opportunity to enter parliament from Colombo.

Police top brass, on June 8, 1994, briefed the slain President’s family as regards the investigation. Dulanjalee told the writer following the two and half hour meeting with the police at Hema Premadasa’s Wijerama Mawatha residence that she had seen her father’s assassin known as Babu at Sucharitha (Dulanjalee to police-released suspects doing well-The Island, June 10, 1994).

Assassination of Maj. Gen. Perera

Sri Lanka never examined the LTTE’s strategy in respect of Premadasa’s assassination. In fact, the suicide blast was meant to eliminate the second executive President Premadasa and create an environment conducive to change the UNP administration. The destabilization of the UNP, by assassinating Premadasa and Athulathmudali, ahead of the Western Provincial Council polls undermined the ruling party though it surely helped Dissanayake’s return to the fold.

It would be pertinent to mention that Dissanayake had been at logger heads with Premadasa over the UNP’s counter-insurgency strategy before the split at the onset of Premadasa’s presidency. Once Dissanayake had strongly criticized the then Foreign and de facto Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne’s counter-insurgency strategy at a UNP parliamentary group meeting chaired by Premadasa. The latter had dismissed Dissanayake’s concerns urging him to leave government if he was not happy.

Retired Maj. Gen. Janaka Perera was the last top UNPer killed by the LTTE a year before the war ended in May 2009. Perera, who earned a name for himself in operations against the JVP, as well as the LTTE, was killed in a suicide attack on Oct 6, 2008, at Anuradhapura. The UNP accused the Rajapaksa administration of not providing sufficient security in spite of the threat posed by the LTTE. The previous administration can never absolve itself of the responsibility for providing the required security.

The Anuradhapura killing deprived the UNP of a capable leader who could have accepted bigger responsibilities.

An unprecedented political combine comprising the UNP-TNA-JVP picked war-winning Fonseka as the common presidential candidate in late 2009 for the January 2010 poll. The same combine fielded Maithripala Sirisena as the common candidate at the January 2015 presidential polls.

The North no longer posed a conventional military threat coupled with terrorist operations though the TNA that once recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of Tamils retained wherewithal to advance a political strategy inimical to Sri Lanka.

Would Sampanthan’s TNA be part of the UNP-led side at the next presidential poll less than two years’ away? Having supported the UNP-led projects in 2010 and 2015, the US is most likely to be in the operation in 2020, too, to thwart the Joint Opposition bid. The possibility of former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rjapaksa coming forward as JO candidate would make the next presidential poll volatile.