Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Reconciliation mechanisms: A glaring omission

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 158

 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM) has accepted the requirement to have additional mechanism/mechanisms to deal with conflict related issues.

The Sri Lankan military brought the war against the LTTE to a successful conclusion in May, 2009.

At a packed media briefing, given by the CTFRM, headed by Manouri Muttetuwegama in early January, at the Information Department, the outfit dealt with four mechanisms; an Office of Missing Persons, a Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-Recurrence Commission, a Judicial Mechanism with Special Counsel, and an Office of Reparations. Having dealt with four mechanisms set up/or in the process of being established, the CTFRM queried the possible requirement for any other mechanism to address post-war issues.

The 11-member CTFRM comprised attorney-at-law Manouri Muttetuwegama, Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, leading civil society activist Gamini Viyangoda, Chairperson of the Association of War Affected Women Visaka Dharmadasa, President’s Counsel Shantha Abhimanasingham, Prof. Sitralega Maunaguru, Ravaya editor K.W. Janaranjana, Prof. Daya Somasundaram, Dr Farzana Haniffa, Prof. Gameela Samarasinghe and researcher Mirak Raheem also with the CPA.

Muttetuwegama handed over CTFRM report the to Yahapalana government on January 3, 2015. Chairman of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga accepted the report at the Presidential Secretariat on behalf of President Maithripala Sirisena.

The CTFRM requested for, what it called, tangible measures to address accountability issues. The civil society grouping underscored the importance of setting up of judicial mechanism comprising both local and foreign personnel, including judges.

The government is yet to officially make its position on the CTFRM report known.

Last week’s column, titled ‘A deeply divided community’, dealt with the pivotal importance of having a special mechanism to resolve conflicts within the Tamil community. The writer argued that conflict ridden Tamil community shouldn’t be left out of costly foreign funded projects meant to promote post-war national reconciliation. In fact, the Tamil community had never been subjected to foreign funded propaganda whereas the Sinhalese majority received heavy dose of advice over the years.

The majority community had been also subjected to propaganda meant to promote peace among them. The Sudu Nelum project, launched during Kumaratunga’s administration, is a case in point.

Now that the CTFRM had asked whether any mechanism was required in addition to those four outfits proposed in accordance with Geneva Resolution 30/1, 2015, it would be pertinent to examine conflicts among the Tamil community. The recurring conflicts among Tamil political parties and the diaspora undermine post-war national reconciliation process. The damage caused by Tamil politicians is bad as the failure on the part of the major political parties and groups affiliated to them to reach consensus on the national issue.

Unfortunately, Western powers haven’t realized the need to settle differences among Tamils though the majority community was being influenced in various ways.

The CTFRM, too, never recognized nor suggested a special mechanism to explore ways and means to address issues affecting the Tamil community. The government funded CTFRM should have tackled the issue in spite of it not being within the outfit’s mandate.

The urgent requirement to examine the crises among Tamils should be examined against the backdrop of an alleged attempt to assassinate Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran, in January 2017. The alleged involvement of the Tamil diaspora in the abortive operation planned by members of the defeated LTTE revealed growing dangers of conflicts within the community.

Conflicts within the TNA

Arumugam Kandaiah Premachandran (better known as Suresh Premachandran) attacked the top TNA leadership recently in Jaffna. Premachandran targeted TNA leader R. Sampanthan (Trincomalee District MP) and MP Sumanthiran over their failure to pressure the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government to address accountability issues in line with the Geneva Resolution. Premachandran held Sampanthan and Sumanthiran responsible for the current state of affairs. Premachandran alleged that the TNA leadership had been supportive of the on-going government’s bid to delay the implementation of the Geneva proposals. Premachandran is of the opinion that the accountability process shouldn’t be delayed under any circumstances.

Having lost his bid to retain the Jaffna District seat, at the August, 2015, parliamentary election, Premachandran stepped up pressure on the TNA leadership. Perhaps, Premachandran could have succeeded if not for Inuvil born Sumanthiran joining the fray in Jaffna. Attorney -at-law Sumanthiran, who had been previously in parliament (2010-2015) through the National List, successfully contested the Jaffna electoral district. Obviously, Premachandran is not the only TNA heavyweight who despised Sumanthiran’s entry into Jaffna politics. Former Supreme Court judge and Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran sought to ridicule Sumanthiran in the eyes of the Tamil speaking people in the wake of the alleged assassination attempt. Wigneswaran declared that there was no basis for the allegation. The ex-justice called the alleged conspiracy as a ruse to retain excessive military presence in the Northern Province. TULF General Secretary V. Andasangaree had no qualms in agreeing with Wigneswaran.

Those who had been demanding accountability on the part of the government and the military refrained from discussing their past. Let me briefly discuss Premachandran’s direct involvement in terrorism at the onset of the conflict caused by India for geopolitical reasons as well as a solution for her own domestic security-related problem. Those really wanting to know the truth should peruse the 15-page Chapter titled ‘An Indocentric Practitioner of Realpolitik’ in former Indian Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit’s memoirs, Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha. It would be interesting to know whether Sri Lanka parliament had obtained the publication released in early 2004.The possibility of any of the sitting members of parliament having examined the relevant section is remote. In fact, those who had been in parliament before them, too, wouldn’t have examined Dixit’s book. The writer is certain that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his successor Maithripala Sirisena lacked understanding.

For want of a thorough examination of the conflict even seven years after the end of the war, the vast majority of people still believe that the Indian intervention in Sri Lanka, was purely due to discriminatory policies adopted by successive governments here. Major political parties here lacked the foresight to examine the conflict. Unfortunately, the Foreign Ministry, as well as the Defence Ministry, hadn’t realized the failure on their part. Perhaps, the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL), established by the yahapalana government can take the initiative. The Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute, established during the previous Rajapaksa administration, pathetically failed in its duty. Let INSSSL engage in a meaningful effort to establish the truth.

Premachandra’s story

Sixty-year-old Suresh Premachandran is the current leader of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), a constituent of the TNA headed by Sampanthan.

Having joined the Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS) in the 70s, Premachandran subsequently joined K. Padmanabha in the wake of the latter forming the EPRLF. Premachandran is one of those who had received weapons training in Palestine. Premachandran took over the EPRLF leadership immediately after the LTTE assassinated its top leadership, including Padmanabha, at their Zackaria colony office apartment in Chennai. Having launched Eelam War II, in the second week of June, 1990, the LTTE struck in India. The then Indian administration lacked interest in probing the EPRLF’s massacre. It felt the requirement to look into the Chennai massacre only after the assassination of one-time Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The dead included Padmanabha, nine other members of the EPRLF and four bystanders. The incident sent shock waves through the Indian establishment. The massacre of the Sri Lankans also contributed to the dismissal of the then DMK administration later 1990. The Indian police never made a genuine effort to apprehend those responsible for the massacre. The first arrest, in respect of the June, 1990 massacre, was made in August, 1991, by Special Investigating Team (SIT) probing the assassination of Gandhi, in May, 1991.

The arrest of Chinna Santhan led to the establishment of the LTTE’s direct responsibility for both the Madras massacre and the suicide bombing of Gandhi, in June 1990, and May, 1991 respectively. There is no doubt that some of those top LTTE operatives who had been assigned for overseas missions, were involved in both the EPRLF massacre and Gandhi’s assassination.

Did Premachandran want the massacre of his colleagues investigated?

Elimination of Padmanabha paved the way for Premachandran to take over the outfit. Premachandran hadn’t been with Padmanabha when gunmen pounced on EPRLF members.

One-eyed Sivarasan, who masterminded the Gandhi assassination, is widely believed to have carried out the EPRLF massacre. In hindsight, had India moved swiftly and decisively to dismantle LTTE networks in her territory, after the massacre of the EPRLF leadership, in June 1990, perhaps Gandhi’s life could have been saved. India never sought to eradicate the LTTE networks, on her soil, even after Prabhakaran humiliated the Indian Army by killing thousands of officers and men. In fact the LTTE networks functioned in India even during the war between the Indian Army and the LTTE. Indian Army quit Sri Lanka in March 1990. The Eelam War II erupted in June, 1990.

It would be pertinent to mention that the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s government had been in a state of confusion with the LTTE executing hundreds of police officers in the eastern Batticaloa and Ampara districts. In the Vanni, isolated Army bases along the Kandy-Jaffna A 9 road were under massive attack. The fate of Sri Lankan terrorists taking refuge in India hadn’t been in the minds of the leaders.

At the time Premachandran took over the EPRLF leadership, he had been an elected member of parliament. Premachandran represented the Jaffna electoral district. Having entered parliament, on the EPRLF ticket, at the 1989 general election, Premachandran had fled to India in the wake of the Indian Army pull out from Sri Lanka. The Indian Army installed EPRLF administration with a rag tag militia called Tamil National Army, headed by Premachandran, crumpled swiftly as India changed its Sri Lanka policy thanks to change of government in New Delhi. EPRLF leaders, including Padmanabha had been among those who were evacuated by the Indian Air Force as the Indian Army withdrew. During the Indian Army deployment here, those groups, opposed to the LTTE, ran riot in the Northern and Eastern Province. The EPRLF and other Indian sponsored groups, including the TELO and PLOTE, had been responsible for a spate of atrocities. Their actions hadn’t been scrutinized by India or Sri Lanka. Tamil speaking people had been at the receiving end with those operating under Indian command causing mayhem. They functioned as para-military groups in accordance with overall Indian strategy in Sri Lanka. The CTFRM should have also paid special attention to those who had suffered in the hands of para-military groups.

Formation of Tamil National Army

During the deployment of the Indian Army, in Sri Lanka (July 1987-March 1990), the EPRLF had been the darling of the Indians. Having installed EPRLF administration, the Indian Army brought all groups, opposed to the LTTE, under its command and towards the tail end of its deployment here formed a militia called the Tamil National Army (TNA). India asserted the TNA could face the LTTE though the Indian Army top brass knew the outfit was no match for the LTTE.

Perhaps, ONUR and those NGOs engaged in expensive post-war reconciliation efforts should make an effort to identify those who died fighting for TNA. The LTTE massacred hundreds of TNA personnel in a series of well-coordinated strikes. The LTTE had the tactical support of the Sri Lankan military and millions worth arm, ammunition and equipment provided by President Premadasa. The LTTE decimated the TNA forces causing heavy loss of life. Hundreds of Batticaloa youth died in the hands of the LTTE. The Premadasa administration turned a blind eye to what was happening on the ground. The police declined to record statements of the families of those massacred. It would be pertinent to mention that the TNA included cadres of PLOTE and the TELO, in addition to the EPRLF.

Premachandran, who had been clamouring for accelerated UN-led probe into accountability issues, could shed light on the EPRLF operations since its inception. As a former member of Indian formed terrorist group now an integral part of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Premachandran is in a position to facilitate investigations. Post-war national reconciliation cannot be achieved by inquiring into the eelam war IV. Kumaratunga, who in her capacity as the ONUR Chairperson manages the post-war national reconciliation process, she herself had been accused of committing atrocities. Rev. Father Emmanuel, President of the UK based Global Tamil Forum (GTF), had called her mother of all battles in the wake of the Eelam War III (April 1995 to Dec 2001). During her administration, those Tamil groups, namely EPRLF, TELO and PLOTE that had been once under Indian command, threw their weight behind her.

TNA Vanni District MP Dharmalingham Siddarthan though was not involved in ‘military operations’ can help establish the truth. Siddarthan can discuss Indian-led initiatives aimed at resolving the crisis created by India primarily for geo-political reasons. Siddarthan recently played a significant role as the Chairman of Centre-Periphery Relations parliamentary subcommittee that made a series of controversial recommendations in line with overall proposed constitutional reforms. Obviously, constitutional and electoral reforms as well as war crimes inquiry in accordance with Geneva Resolution 30/1 are vigorously pursued. Unfortunately, those at the helm of these projects are only interested in probing the Rajapaksa administration. They are not even bothered to establish the primary cause of war in Sri Lanka and the accountability on the part of India, constituents of the TNA et al.

CBK irks army

A recent statement attributed to Kumaratunga, who had been one-time Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and widely credited with bringing in Jaffna peninsula under state control, underscored the challenges faced by the country in the run up to the next Geneva session. Kumaratunga alleged sexual exploitation of Tamil women by the security forces in former war zones. Colombo based Foreign Correspondents Association (FCA) quoted Kumaratunga as having also said that those who had survived war now faced widespread sexual exploitation by officials in their own community as well as from the army. Army headquarters promptly contradicted Kumaratunga’s statement, the first occasion the military challenged former Commander-in-Chief.

One-time US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Sri Lanka of using rape as a weapon to suppress the Tamil community. The US retracted the statement when the then government strongly objected to Clinton unsubstantiated allegation. Accusations in respect of sexual exploitation of Tamil women even in the post-war era are meant to pressure Sri Lanka over the issue of reconciliation. Sri Lanka is being subjected to a massive propaganda project to facilitate a settlement in line with the Geneva Resolution, co-sponsored by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

A deeply divided community

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 157

 
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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran has claimed that the yahapalana government cooked up an assassination attempt on Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M.A. Sumanthiran by the LTTE rump to justify on-going efforts to retain existing military presence in the Northern Province.

Since becoming the Chief Minister in Sept 2013, Wigneswaran has been demanding the withdrawal of the armed forces from the Northern Province.

Retired Supreme Court judge Wigneswaran refrained from accusing Inuvil born Jaffna District MP and attorney-at-law Sumanthiran of collaborating with the government project. However, Wigneswaran cannot be unaware of MP Sumanthiran calling for a thorough inquiry into the alleged attempt believed to be spearheaded by a section of Tamil Diaspora.

Having first entered parliament through the National List, Sumanthiran contested the last parliamentary polls in Aug 2015.The senior lawyer secured a place among those elected from the Jaffna peninsula at the expense of a TNA senior who had been a member of parliament before.

Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka is on record as having accused Norway based diaspora elements of being behind the assassination plot. In addition to the Norwegian factor, reports suggested that diaspora elements based in Malaysia, France and Australia might have had a hand in the assassination plot.

The police and the TNA bared the assassination plot in the wake of Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanism (CTFRM) handing over comprehensive set of proposals to the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration. Former President and Chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) Chandrika Bandarnaike Kumaratunga received CTFRM report from senior attorney at law Manouri Muttetuwegama at the Presidential Secretariat on January 3, 2017.

The project undertaken by an 11-member team comprising the civil society headed by Muttetuwegama in line with the Geneva Resolution dealt with a range of issues. The alleged attempt to assassinate MP Sumanthiran should be examined against the backdrop of yahapalana leaders repeated assurances that post-war national reconciliation process would depend on truth, justice, reparations and non-recurrence.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, in his concluding remarks during the parliamentary debate on Geneva Resolution on Oct 23, 2015, declared that under that strategy, the government intended to create four separate institutions. Let me quote Minister Samaraweera verbatim: (A) A Commission for Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-recurrence to be evolved in consultation with the relevant authorities of South Africa. This mechanism is envisaged as having a dual structure. For many victims of human rights abuses, from whichever community, where the perpetrators are unclear for a judicial mechanism to handle, or where the practices of the state and society have resulted in discrimination, this Commission will allow them to discover the truth, understand what happened and help remedy any sense of injustice. A special feature of this will be a Compassionate Council, consisting of senior religious figures. (B) An Office on Missing Persons based on the principle of the families’ right to know, to be set up by Statute with expertise from the ICRC. (C) A Judicial Mechanism with a Special Counsel to be set up by Statute. This takes into account the right of victims to a fair remedy and aims to address the problem of impunity for human rights violations suffered by all communities. There have been previous instances as well in Sri Lanka when criminal justice mechanisms of different kinds have been set up. This, therefore, is not at all an alien concept. Neither is it aimed at a particular group of persons, but something that is essential in terms of upholding the rule of law, and creating a society that respects the rule of law. (D) An Office for Reparations to be set up by Statute to facilitate the implementation of recommendations relating to reparations made by the proposed Commission on Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-recurrence, the Office of the Missing Persons, the LLRC and any other entity; These bodies will be created after wide-ranging and deep consultations with all the stakeholders involved, including the victims, experts, political parties, the security forces and civil society.

Special reconciliation project

for Tamils needed

Does post-war Sri Lanka require a special mechanism to address issues involving Tamils? Muttetuwegama’s group hadn’t addressed the issue. In fact, Paranagama Commission as well as the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), too turned a blind eye to this aspect. All government and foreign funded projects are meant to resolve problems between the Sinhalese and Tamil speaking people. They conveniently have forgotten the requirement to settle differences among the Tamils, a deeply divided community that believed in LTTE triumphing over the military until the very end.

 Wigneswaran’s reaction to alleged attempt on MP Sumanthiran’s life again highlighted deep divisions among the Tamil speaking community. Obviously, Wigneswaran inferred that the Colombo-based lawyer had cooperated with the government to propagate a lie that former members of the LTTE at the behest of Tamil diaspora joined hands in first post-war assassination plot. A sharply divided TNA consisting of four parties is struggling to cope up with the Sumanthiran affair. Having accused the government and an influential section of the grouping of propagating lies, Wigneswaran led a protest march in the eastern Batticaloa district over the last weekend demanding the withdrawal of the military from ‘traditional Tamil homelands’ in the former war zone. Having won the confidence of the TNA leadership as well as Colombo-based diplomatic community, Wigneswaran secured the Chief Ministership with an overwhelming majority in Sept 2013. Since then he has adopted a strategy contrary to that of the TNA which nominated him as the Northern Province Chief Minister. Wigneswaran is no longer under TNA command. A TNA split is now inevitable at the next Northern Provincial Council poll. The writer raised the issue with Mrs Kumaratunga’s Office. 

The Island: Since the change of government in January 2015, ONUR has been spearheading post-war national reconciliation process. The projects undertaken by ONUR as well as other organizations, such as the National Peace Council and CPA (Centre for Policy Alternatives) are meant to reconcile the Sinhalese and Tamil speaking people. Against the backdrop of the alleged Sumanthiran assassination plot and views expressed by Wigneswaran and another TNA MP, don’t’ you think special projects are required to settle differences among Tamil speaking people, including diaspora.

Mrs Kumaratunga’s Office: The policies of the Government and programmes being carried out by ONUR are meant to restore Trust and promote Non-Recurrence of the conditions that led to the conflict. And these initiatives involve a wide range of stakeholders in this process. However, differences of opinion within any community, expressed in a respectful manner, are hallmark of a democracy and we have not identified a need to think of any special projects to intervene in cases of differences of opinion within elected officials. If a threat for national unity and reconciliation is perceived, we will address such with the respective stakeholders in a constructive manner.

The Island: Have you implemented projects to build friendship among Tamils and settle differences among various Tamil groups? If not, will you be considering special project meant for Tamils?

Mrs. Kumaratunga’s Office: "The ONUR respects people’s democratic right to expression and thus regardless of whether differences of opinions exist within Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims in general, we do not believe government intervention is a necessity,  provided such expressions of opinion are of a non-inflammatory nature and does not lead to hatred or violence. We do believe that reconciliation process needs to bring together as many Sri Lankans as possible across ethnic and religious lines to build a prosperous country for all of us.

The following response was received from Dr Jehan Perera on behalf of the National Peace Council (NPC): The government’s progress in meeting popular expectations has been limited in all sectors of society.  Many are disappointed and impatient.  This is also applicable to the Tamil polity.  This has eroded trust and threatens to damage the relationship with the government.  It also harms intra-Tamil relationships both local and diaspora.  It widens the rift between those Tamils who wish to work with the government in a spirit of partnership and those who seek a path of confrontation.

There are various theories about the assassination attempt.  This indicates we need to improve the level of trust in society.  Implementation of promises made by the government is of utmost importance in reducing the trust deficit and improving relations all round.  Among the most important of these is to ascertain the whereabouts of missing persons, restoration of military occupied lands to civilians, rebuilding of livelihoods and demilitarization of the North and East.  The use of violence to attain any of these objectives needs to be condemned.    

Organizations such as ONUR and NGOs can organize more dialogues and intellectual exchanges where problems are identified and mutually acceptable solutions are discussed.  These can feed into policy decisions.  At dialogues my organization conducts we discuss the contentious issues on which there is no single right answer.  We help the participants to understand the complexity of issues and the politics and competing visions that underlie them.  

We very much appreciate the space and freedom that has been opened up for us at this time to engage in public discussion of these issues.  This includes the media and The Island is a good example.  We find that most of those we engage with, from all ethnic and religious communities, are reasonable and show goodwill towards the others.  This includes the senior members of the security forces whom I teach at the University of Colombo’s post-graduate diploma and degree courses.  This gives me hope for the future."

Sangaree-Wigneswaran

consensus

The eradication of the LTTE in May 2009 automatically freed the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led TNA. It would be pertinent to mention that V. Anandasangree’s TULF, too, had been constituent of the TNA at its inception in the run-up to eelam war IV (Aug 2006 to May 2009).

Interestingly, Anandasangaree has publicly backed Wigneswaran stand that the alleged attempt on MP Sumanthiran was nothing but a lie. Since he quit the TNA, Anandasangaree has been quite critical of the TNA. The veteran politician has been at logger heads with the TNA. For some reason, he has now taken a stand supportive of Wigneswaran vis-a-vis party leadership.

The likes of Wigneswaran and Anandasangaree will work overtime to discredit MP Sumanthiran, who has become the major TNA player in negotiations with the diplomatic community. Sumanthiran’s close relationship with the UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF); the most influential diaspora grouping has antagonized many.

The LTTE had been instrumental in setting up the TNA though its leaders are unlikely to discuss their sordid association with the Tigers. However, the TULF quit the outfit ahead of April 2004 general election and was routed in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The LTTE ensured the TNA secured the lion’s share of parliamentary seats in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The European Union polls observation mission in 2004 explained how the TNA benefited from the LTTE unleashed violence on political opponents. The TNA fully operated with the LTTE until the very end. In early Nov 2005, the top TNA leadership, having met senior LTTE representatives in Kilinochchi ordered Tamil speaking people not to exercise their franchise. The move was meant to deprive Tamil vote to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. The LTTE-TNA combine helped UPFA candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa to win the presidency. Obviously, they believed a reckless Rakapaksa would be naive to take on the LTTE militarily. Their project went awry. Thanks to Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE which wouldn’t have been possible without the then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the TNA regained legitimacy to engage in politics. Perhaps, TNA leader and veteran politician R. Sampanthan today cannot even remember today how he recognized Velupillai Prabhakaran as the sole representative of Tamil speaking people.

TNA manipulated

Having helped Rajapaksa to win presidency at Nov 2005 presidential poll, the TNA threw its weight behind the war winning Army Chief Fonseka at January 2010 presidential polls. The US embassy facilitated a clandestine project to bring all anti-Rajapaksa factions together to oust the war winning President. In spite of having accused Fonseka of committing war crimes by no less a person than then US ambassador in Colombo Patricia Butenis (Aug 2009-June 2012), the US worked overtime to help build a coalition against Rajapaksa. Butenis accused Rajapaksa brothers, Mahinda, Basil and Gotabhaya and Fonseka of war crimes in a classified diplomatic cable originating from Colombo in January 2010. But, secretly, US exerted pressure on political parties, including the TNA and the SLMC to back Fonseka. In fact, another leaked US diplomatic cable revealed how the TNA had changed its stance thereby helped Rajapaksa to win presidency. In other words, the TNA helped LTTE strategy to cause an all-out war finally leading to its own destruction.

Butenis’ predecessor Robert O Blake (Sept 2006-Aug 2009) pursued extremely hostile policy towards the then government since early 2009. The US drastically changed its stance in the wake of Rajapaksa’s refusal to call off the offensive to pave the way for the remaining LTTE forces trapped on the Vanni east front to surrender and the top leadership to secure refuge overseas.

The US project meant to deprive war winning president of a second term went awry in January 2010. The US adopted a similar strategy at January 2015 presidential poll. India, too, threw its weight behind the 2015 project to engineer the Rajapaksas ouster. Had they expected to end Sri Lanka’s relationship with Beijing through regime change? The current outcome has proved them wrong. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has ended up with Chinese investments in the absence of any other tangible saviors. The much touted Volkswagen investment turned out to be a hoax with government leaders ending up with egg on their face.



India’s culpability

Those wanting proper post-war national reconciliation should also examine the atrocities committed by Tamil terrorists on their people. During 80s, the LTTE massacred rival Tamil groups formed by India to gain superiority while Delhi also used anti-LTTE groups to undermine the political set up here. Vanni District TNA MP MP Dharmalingjam Siddarthan can explain how Jaffna based TELO killed his father V. Dharmalingam at the behest of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). TELO assassins executed much respected Jaffna District MPs V. Dharmalingam and his colleague M. Alalasundaram on Sept 2/3, 1985. Siddarthan told the writer years ago, the RAW planned to get rid of two more Jaffna District MPs at that time as it felt urgent requirement to dilute TULF influence in Jaffna politics.

 The world cannot forget how Indian trained PLOTE almost succeeded in changing the Maldivian regime in early Nov 1988. India had to send in air borne troops to crush the attempt to overthrow the dictatorial Gayoom administration.

Those wanting genuine post-war national reconciliation should examine the culpability of the Tamil community. A costly post-war Norwegian study revealed the massive amounts of funds made available to various NGOs and individuals in the run-up to the eelam War IV (Aug 2006-May 2009) to influence the decision making process as well as the electorate. During a three-year period, Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe of the Anti-War Front alone received USD 6 mn to promote Norwegian-style peace at the expense of Sri Lanka’s national interests. The Norwegians wouldn’t have exposed Dr, Rupesinghe if he remained committed to their cause. Dr Rupesinghe earned the wrath of the Norwegians and other western donors for offering his services to President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the onset of the eelam war IV. The issue here is that none of the Norwegian or various other foreign funded projects sought to convince the LTTE or the Tamil community the conflict couldn’t be resolved through military means. They pushed successive governments and the Sinhala community to believe the LTTE couldn’t be defeated. They believed in Prabhakaran’s invincibility even after the Army crushed the LTTE forces at Kilinochchi in the first week of January 2009. Current projects are meant to convince the people that Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE had made reconciliation further problematic. The Yahapalana rulers seemed to have accepted that when it cancelled Victory Day celebrations to appease those who had turned a blind eye to LTTE atrocities, including the widespread use of children as cannon fodder in high intensity battles and suicide missions.

The Tamil media cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for the present situation. An influential section of the Tamil media believed in the LTTE’s capacity to bring the war to a successful conclusion in the north and elimination of political leaders, both Sinhalese and Tamils standing in their way was an integral part of the overall strategy. The writer still remember what Anandasangaree told him in the wake of the assassination of Mrs Sarojini Yogeswaran in May 1998 in Jaffna. A shaken Anandasangaree said "do you want me killed" when he was asked to name the LTTE as the perpetrator of the crime.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

A move to assassinate Sumanthiran goes awry

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 156

 

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The possibility of a foreigner of Sri Lankan origin, coming back without any hindrance to cause mayhem can never be ruled out. Let me remind you of a suicide attack carried out by a Norwegian in Somalia in March 2014. The perpetrator was identified as Abdullahi Ahmed Abdulle, a Norwegian passport holder of Somali origin. The Norwegian caused heavy loss of life in an attack on a hotel at Buulo Burde, in southern Somalia.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

An abortive attempt to assassinate Jaffna District Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran in January this year sent shock waves through the Tamil community.

The exposure of the reprehensible conspiracy, by a former member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), just before Christmas last year, led to the arrest of five LTTE personnel in separate raids in January.

The Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) carried out the arrests, in mid-January soon after a reluctant yahapalana government authorized further investigations into destabilisation project.

However, the government refrained from utilising the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to take the suspects into custody. The decision should be examined against the backdrop of the government being in the process of abolishing the PTA. The government is seeking a consensus, as regards new national security mechanism, with those countries behind a spate of Geneva Resolutions directed at Sri Lanka since the conclusion of the conflict.

Police headquarters identified those who had been arrested in connection with the assassination attempt so far as rehabilitated LTTE cadres.

The Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led TNA welcomed the investigation. Having repeatedly categorized those who had been rehabilitated, and released, as well, as still in government custody, as political prisoners, a deeply embarrassed TNA grudgingly acknowledged the danger posed by the LTTE rump as well as extremist elements overseas.

Sumanthiran entered parliament on the TNA Tamil List, following the April 2010 general election. Perhaps one of the top constitutional lawyers, Sumanthiran wouldn’t have been accommodated on the National List had the TNA nominations were subject to LTTE approval. Inuvil, Jaffna born, Sumanthiran successfully contested the Jaffna district at the last general election in August, 2015. It would be pertinent to mention that Sumanthiran hadn’t been deeply involved with the ITAK/TNA at the time it had been involved with the LTTE.

At the general election, in late 2001, the LTTE threw its weight behind the TNA enabling the outfit to secure the lion’s share of the electoral seats available in the northern and eastern districts. At the April 2004 general election, the TNA contested the election, on behalf of the LTTE, at that time recognized by the ITAK-led TNA as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. The European Union Election Observation Mission directly accused the TNA of capturing most parliamentary seats, in the northern and eastern provinces, with the LTTE’s help. The TNA secured 22 seats. The LTTE-TNA project extended further, at the Nov, 2005 presidential polls, when they ordered Tamils not to exercise their franchise in support of either Ranil Wickremesinghe or Mahinda Rajapaksa. The move was clearly meant to deprive Wickremesinghe of victory. Had the Tamils been given a free hand, they would have certainly ensured Wickremesinghe’s victory. Obviously, the LTTE-TNA grouping felt that having helped Rajapaksa to win, he could have been easily overwhelmed. The TNA subsequently backed war-winning Army Chief Sarath Fonseka against Rajapaksa, at the January 2010 presidential polls. Having failed in that endeavour, the TNA finally succeeded, at the January 2015 presidential polls, when it extended its support to Maithripala Sirisena.

The TNA comprised ITAK, TELO (Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization), PLOTE (People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam) and EPRLF (Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front). Although, V. Anandasangaree’s Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), too, had been part of the outfit, at its beginning, the political veteran subsequently broke ranks. Today, Sangaree is the strongest critic of the TNA which once worked closely with the LTTE. In fact, they had been part of the LTTE until the combined armed forces brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May 2009 by crushing the Tigers militarily.

The alleged involvement of a section of extremist Tamil diaspora, in the assassination plot had made the situation worse. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe coalition, the TNA, as well as Colombo-based Western embassies, reacted cautiously to the alleged diaspora move.

The conspiracy couldn’t have come to light at a far worse time for those wanting accountability mechanisms to address the grievances of the war weary Tamil community. 

Vanni District TNA MP (PLOTE) Dharmlingham Siddarthan, whom the writer associated with since 1990, acknowledged that they kept quiet about the alleged attempt on MP Sumjanthiran’s life for about three weeks.

Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika, of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), alleged Norway-based Nediyawan faction of calling for attorney-at-law Sumanthiran’s assassination. Patali Champika quite rightly castigated war-winning President Malinda Rajapaksa of recklessly releasing nearly 12,000 LTTE personnel without conducting proper investigations. Patali Champika alleged that those who had been released by the then President Rajapaksa were responsible for the assassination bid. However, Patali Champika’s cabinet colleagues refrained from commenting on the assassination attempt. The media largely ignored the assassination attempt, and the last minute cancellation of last week’s post-cabinet media briefing denied the media an opportunity to raise the issue with cabinet spokesman Dr Rajitha Senaratne.

Lukewarm int’l reaction

British, US and Australian diplomatic missions declined to comment on the alleged involvement of Tamil diaspora in the assassination bid. The British asserted that the High Commission couldn’t comment on unsubstantiated media reports.

The British HC spokesperson told the writer "The British High Commission won’t be commenting on these unconfirmed reports."

The US embassy spokesperson told the writer that they didn’t have anything else to be added to recent reports regarding the alleged assassination attempt.

The Australian High Commission explained to the writer that the HC didn’t comment on legal matters.

The Norwegian embassy refrained from responding to the writer for five days regarding the direct accusation made by Minister Patali Champika over a week ago. Finally the Norwegian embassy in Colombo posted its response on its website. A Norwegian diplomat informed the writer of the Norwegian response soon after the issue was raised again last Friday morning. The following is the full text of the Norwegian statement: "With reference to recent newspaper articles on the alleged assassination attempt on parliamentarian Sumanthiran. The Norwegian embassy has no other information on this than what is mentioned in the Sri Lankan newspapers. We consider this a legal matter which is handled by the Sri Lankan police. In general, if the Sri Lankan police initiate or request international cooperation, there are established international procedures for such cooperation. The embassy has no further comments."

Most probably, the Norwegian embassy, or any other diplomatic mission in Colombo, wouldn’t have publicly commented on the assassination attempt. Had there been any threat on attorney-at-law Sumanthiran from any other party, Western diplomatic missions would have surely taken it up. The on-going TID investigation into the Tamil diaspora led assassination bid would place the Western diplomatic missions in an embarrassing position.

The five LTTE cadres are scheduled to be produced before the Kilinochchi District judge on Feb 13.

The assassination plot is widely believed to have the backing of extremist Tamil diaspora elements based in Malaysia, France, Australia and Norway.

In response to a query raised by the writer, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mahishini Colonne expressed the belief that the ministry could facilitate the investigation. Colonne assured her Ministry’s support for investigating agencies to reach foreign governments.

The TNA lawmaker was to be assassinated on the Soranpattu-Thaalayady road, on January 13. Had those who had been working at the behest of extremist elements within the diaspora, succeeded, the crime would have been certainly blamed on sections of the military hell-bent on reversing the January 2015 revolution. In fact, early last year, the government alleged those in the military (still loyal to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa) of trying to bring him back to power. The accusation was made close on the heels of the Chavakachcheri police recovering explosives, including suicide jacket following the arrest of an LTTE cadre. MP Sumanthiran confirmed to this writer the alleged involvement of suspended youth wing leader of ITAK with those implicated in the Chavakachcheri explosives haul. The Island reportage of the Chavakachcheri recovery and related matters prompted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to castigate the writer. Both the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and Colombo Crime Division (CCD) recorded lengthy statements from the writer regarding his assumption that the former members of the LTTE could cause mayhem.

MP Sumanthiran told the writer that diaspora links, too, should be investigated in respect of those arrested in connection with the plot to assassinate him. Referring to the alleged involvement of Malaysia-based diaspora elements in the plot, Sumanthiran asserted that Malaysia had always cooperated with Sri Lanka. The Jaffna district MP was referring to the seizure and handing over of LTTE front liner Kumaran Pathmanathan alias KP and other elements to the previous government. Malaysia handed over Pathmanathan to the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) in early Aug 2009.

The President of Yuthukama Forum and front-line member of the National Joint Committee, Gevindu Cumaratunga said that various interested parties, including Western diplomatic missions, so-called foreign funded civil society groups and INGOs would have flooded the media with statements on the alleged assassination attempts if not for the involvement of LTTE cadres and the diaspora. Cumaratunga, who had been battling anti-national elements at various forums, asserted that those who had been propagating constitutional reforms as panacea for Sri Lanka’s ills would have realized their folly. Cumaratunga urged the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government to thoroughly examine the situation without being deceived by false assurances given by interested parties.

Foreign threats, Norwegian

example

India’s war against Sri Lanka, launched in the early 80s primarily due to Geo political reasons, wouldn’t have lasted so long had there been an effective plans to deprive massive Europe-US-Australia and Scandinavian countries based diaspora support. Indian project went awry, in Oct 1987, after New Delhi was forced to take on the LTTE. The LTTE assassinated wartime Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in May, 1991, over a year after the Indian Army quit Sri Lanka.

In Aug 1998 the then British High Commissioner here, David Tatham, during a visit to Jaffna, urged the Tamil community to stop funding the on-going war. Tatham knew what was going on. The British diplomat had the strength to publicly appeal for an end to diaspora funding. The appeal was made at a time the British allowed a free hand for the LTTE on their territory. The diaspora received direct orders from the north. They worked at the behest of the LTTE. Now that the LTTE leadership had been eradicated, some sections of the diaspora were making an attempt to use the LTTE rump. The alleged assassination bid on Sumanthiran is a case in point. Perhaps, one day, the diaspora may succeed in choosing one among them to take a target in Colombo. The possibility of a foreigner of Sri Lankan origin, coming back without any hindrance to cause mayhem can never be ruled out. Let me remind you of a suicide attack carried out by a Norwegian in Somalia in March 2014. The perpetrator was identified as Abdullahi Ahmed Abdulle, a Norwegian passport holder of Somali origin. The Norwegian caused heavy loss of life in an attack on a hotel at Buulo Burde, in southern Somalia. The AFP, in a Mogadishu datelined March 19, 2014 story, quoted Shebab (terrorist group) military spokesman, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Abu Musab, as having said: "The attacker of Buulo Burde was a 60-year-old man who came from Norway to fight the enemies of Allah. He paid the sacrifice in order to be close to Allah by killing his enemies. The event is showing us that there is no age limit for Jihad."

Shebab mounted a car bomb attack in response to a large scale military operation launched by African Union forces. The Norwegian, of Somali origin, was perhaps the oldest person to carry out a suicide mission. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know the circumstances under which the Shebab terrorist had entered Norway, secured citizenship and subsequently returned to Somalia to launch a suicide mission on March 18, 2014. Did the Norwegian Foreign Service have had any hand in helping the Shebab terrorist leave Somalia clandestinely? Sri Lanka should study such cases. In fact, Sri Lanka should seek information from Somalia, through relevant agencies, as a country affected by terrorism. The government shouldn’t turn a blind eye to what was happening in other parts of the world. Had the Shebab killer received political asylum in Norway? Had he been involved in terrorism or engaged in activities against the state at the time he entered Norway? Commonwealth member state Kenya was another country badly threatened by foreign terrorists of Kenyan origin. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka had never realized the need to examine similar threats faced by other countries.

A post-war clandestine Norwegian project

Sri Lanka should take up with Norway the contentious issue of Norwegians, of Sri Lankan origin. Norway cannot remain mum especially in the wake of one of its citizens being accused of planning to assassinate TNA lawmaker Sumanthiran. A substantial number of Sri Lankans, including members of the LTTE, had received Norwegian citizenship – hence the freedom to travel in Europe, as well as the Scandinavian region, without any hassle. Had some of them been given new identities or in special cases changed ethnicity? Although Sri Lanka summoned the then Norwegian ambassador, Hilde Haraldstad, over a secret project to help Sri Lankans leave the country, the previous government never really pursued the case. The then Foreign Secretary, Karunathilake Amunugama, raised the issue on behalf of External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris (Helping 12 persons out of Sri Lanka: Government summons Norwegian envoy-The Island March 20, 2011). Denying any wrongdoing on Norway’s part, Haraldstad insisted she was not at liberty to discuss individual cases. The External Affairs Ministry never pursued the clandestine Norwegian project. 

The Norwegian envoy was summoned in the wake of Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten, in its May 12, 2011, edition revealing Norwegian diplomatic mission in Colombo buying air tickets for 12 would be Sri Lankan asylum seekers deemed to be at risk in Sri Lanka. Aftenposten quoted one-time Norwegian peace envoy in Sri Lanka, Erik Solheim, as having endorsed the project undertaken by the Norwegian diplomatic staff in Colombo. Solheim also accused Sri Lanka of extra-judicial measures, including killings during the last phase of the conflict. Haraldsrad said that she couldn’t confirm the figure given by Aftenposten with regard to the number of Sri Lankans given political asylum in Norway. Although the number of Norwegians, of Sri Lankan origin, is relatively smaller when compared with communities in Canada or the UK, the Norwegian grouping is one of the most influential among pro-separatist Diaspora.

Sumanthiran’s close relationship with the GTF, too, wouldn’t have been to the liking of some sections of the diaspora as well as politicians here.

Recent terrorist attacks in Europe revealed those who had received citizenship of various EU countries were the perpetrators of these unprecedented assaults. European countries had allowed undesirable elements, including known terrorists, to enter their countries. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, several thousands of Sri Lankan terrorists live overseas. Those who had been trained by Indians in India in the early 80s, as well as in Sri Lanka, are among foreign nationals of Sri Lankan origin today. The diaspora wielded immense power due to organized vote bank that can be utilized handily at elections. Major British, Canadian and Norwegian political parties had been bending backwards over the years to appease the diaspora. Some political parties cannot forgo their relationship with Tamil diaspora. The British approach is a glaring example of playing politics at the expense of a smaller nation that had been part of the British Empire once. UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF) had its inauguration in the House of Commons several months after the then Labour Government failed in its highly publicized attempt to save the LTTE, in early 2009. Had the wartime President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa given into Western demands and reached an understanding with the sinking LTTE, the likes of Sumanthiran wouldn’t have been in parliament. Sri Lanka would have been a different place. In fact, had Prabhakaran survived thanks to the Rajapaksas, twice president Mahinda Rajapaksa would have comfortably won a third term. In fact, the TNA would have urged Tamils to vote for Rajapaksa. The TNA, in January 2010, underscored its readiness to do anything to achieve political objectives when it backed General Sarath Fonseka’s candidature at the presidential polls. The much touted allegations pertaining to massacre of Tamils during the last phase of the offensive by Gen. Fonseka’s army didn’t discourage the TNA though it was initially sceptical. Wiki Leaks cables, originating from the US embassy in Colombo during the previous administration, revealed how the then US Ambassador here Patricia Butenis believed both Rajapaksa and Fonseka committed war crimes, though the world’s solitary superpower pushed the TNA to help in a regime change in Sri Lanka.

Sumanthiran hadn’t been dear to some sections of his own community, both here and overseas. They had set ablaze his effigy after the change of government, in January, 2015. They resented Sumanthiran’s rapid rise due to his ability to work with all stakeholders. The attempt to assassinate the top lawyer should prompt those genuinely interested in a lasting solution to the national issue to review every aspect of the process before it is too late.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The day Kumar Sangakkara felt humbled


Unpardonable failure to capitalize on ‘Spirit of Cricket’ lecture

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 155

 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lankan cricketer, Kumar Sangakkara earned the wrath of the war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government for his hour long "Spirit of Cricket" lecture at the July, 2011, Sir Colin Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s.

Some politicians and officials depicted the lecture as a frontal attack on the then government. Those who had resented Sangakkara, for being critical of their conduct, cleverly deceived President Rajapaksa. They propagated the lie that the cricketer was challenging the government and was working with the Opposition.

Sangakkara received an invitation from the MCC to deliver the CC lecture, shortly after Sri Lanka lost to India, at the World Cup final, in early April, 2011. The stylish batsman had been the first Sri Lankan to receive an invitation from MCC at a time the Tamil Diaspora was working hard to isolate Sri Lanka. Had they knew of Sangakkara’s intention, they would have surely opposed. They had the strength to bring a couple of thousands of supporters, to any London venue, at short notice.

Having led his country to a runners-up finish, Sangakkara relinquished captaincy in the ODIs and T20 Internationals. However, Sangakkara represented the Test team, till August, 2015.

A section of the government reacted angrily to the devastating attack on Sri Lanka Cricket administration and the cricketer’s severe criticism of political interference.

The Sri Lankan became the first speaker to receive a standing ovation at Lords since Bishop Desmond Tutu in 2008. Both the UK-based, and Sri Lankan media focused on Sangakkara’s assault on the politically influential cricket administration and the criminal waste of funds, as well as resources belonging to Sri Lanka Cricket.

Sangakkara was accused of conspiring with Colombo-based Western diplomatic community and those opposed to the Rajapaksa administration. Some speculated about Sangakkara throwing his weight behind the UNP-led Opposition in the wake of war-winning Army Chief, the then Gen. Sarath Fonseka suffering huge defeat at the January 2010 presidential polls. Interested parties speculated that Sangakkara had been in secret talks with Colombo-based US diplomats.

Sanga earns govt. wrath

Although, Sangakkara refrained from naming anyone, many believed the criticism had been directed at the then Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage, and controversial SLC administrator Nishantha Ranatunga. The government relentlessly pursued the national player, who could have easily led the country for two more years. Rex Clementine, the Sports Editor of The Island, and a senior colleague of the writer, asserted that due to factors beyond Sangakkara’s control, the great player was able to lead the country for only two years, "It’s a pity that the best cricketing brain we ever had captained the country for only two years."

It would be pertinent to examine Sangakkara’s speech against the backdrop of Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s address at the Chatham House, London. Minister Samaraweera discussed the on going post-war national reconciliation process.

Minister Samaraweera was speaking on behalf of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government wanting to bring in a brand new Constitution, in accordance with Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by the ruling coalition, in Oct, 2015.

Yahapalana leaders consider the proposed constitution as panacea for Sri Lanka’s ills, a view not acceptable to a large section of the population.

Had the Sri Lankan military failed to bring the war to a successful conclusion, with the elimination of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, in May 2009, national reconciliation wouldn’t have been a reality. That is the undeniable truth.

Those who had lashed out at Sangakkara, over the Lords lecture conveniently ignored some significant references made by the outspoken Trinitian. Sangakkara dealt with a range of issues, including some aspects of the ethnic conflict. Most importantly Sangakkara discussed, a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, on the morning of March 3, 2009, near the Gaddafi stadium, Lahore. Six Sri Lankan national players received injuries. Two Pakistani policemen died, defending the Sri Lankans.

Lahore attack

Having recollected the terrorist attack in Lahore, Sangakkara recounted an unforgettable experience he had with a Sri Lanka soldier back at home. Sangakkara told the audience: A week after our arrival in Colombo, from Pakistan, I was driving about town and was stopped at a checkpoint. A soldier politely inquired as to my health after the attack. I said I was fine and added that what they as soldiers experience every day we only experienced for a few minutes, but managed to grab all the news headlines. That soldier looked me in the eye and replied: "It is OK if I die because it is my job and I am ready for it. But you are a hero and if you were to die it would be a great loss for our country. I was taken aback. How can this man value his life less than mine? His sincerity was overwhelming. I felt humbled."

For them, avoiding bullets, shells, mines and grenades, was imperative for survival. This was an experience that I could not relate to. I had great sympathy and compassion for them, but had no real experience with which I could draw parallels. That was until we toured Pakistan in 2009."

"We all realized what some of our fellow Sri Lankans experienced every day for nearly 30 years. There was a new respect and awe for their courage and selflessness."

Sri Lanka received Pakistan support to fight terrorism since the 80s. Islamabad backed Sri Lanka’s military efforts, in numerous ways, and threw its weight behind Sri Lanka at various international forums, including Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council.

The Sinhala print and electronic media completely ignored Sangakkara’s comments on the Army. There had never been any other instance of internationally recognized sports personality commending the Army at any international event. There couldn’t have been a better opportunity than the gathering at Lord’s to present Sri Lanka’s case. Sangakkara spoke on behalf of Sri Lanka beautifully. Had Lakshman Kadirgamar being alive, the senior Trinitian would have certainly congratulated Sangakkara. The LTTE assassinated Kadirgamar, in Aug., 2005.

The military brought the war to a successful conclusion two months later. The nearly three-year combined security forces campaign resulted in the eradication of LTTE’s conventional military capability as well as its ability to resume hit and run attacks. Although some experts predicted that the LTTE would return to the jungles, their debilitating defeat made them fearful of a fresh attempt. Those who had escaped, and believed in the LTTE’s invincibility, feared to challenge the Army.

Sacrifices made by rural youth underscored

Sangakkara unreservedly acknowledged the sacrifices made by the military during the nearly three decades long war. The fourth phase of the conflict (Aug., 2006-May 2009) claimed the lives of nearly 6,000 officers and men.

Sangakkara also mentioned the Army and the LTTE working together in the wake of the Dec 2004 tsunami. Sangakkara said: "We visited shelter camps, run by the Army, and the LTTE, and even administered a partnership between them. Two bitter warring factions brought together to help people in a time of need."

Sangakkara dealt with the conflict. Sangakkara hadn’t been reluctant to call the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam a terrorist group and to assert the war dragged the development by decades. Sangakkara recognized the sacrifices made by rural Sinhala youth in the fight against terrorism. "This war affected the whole of our land in different ways. Families, usually from the lower economic classes, sacrificed their young men and women by the thousands in the service of Sri Lanka’s military.

"Even Colombo, a capital city that seemed far removed from the war’s front-line, was under siege by the terrorists using powerful vehicle and suicide bombs. Bombs in public places, targeting both civilians and political targets became an accepted risk of daily life in Sri Lanka. Parents, travelling to work by bus, would split up and travel separately so that if one of them died the other will return to tend to the family. Each and every Sri Lankan was touched by the brutality of that conflict."

The national cricketer also underscored how Sinhalese intervened to save Tamils, targeted by gangs, during the July 1983, riots, in some instances, backed by the then ruling party politicians. Sangakkara recollected how his father had accommodated 35 Tamils at their home as politically-motivated goon squads roamed the streets. The only omissions in his superb speech, which I believe had been made on behalf of Sri Lanka, was his failure to mention Indian intervention. Sangakkara must have had some valid reason. Still, the lecture could have made all Sri Lankans proud, immensely.

Instead of appreciating Sangakkara’s effort to paint a positive picture of Sri Lanka, particularly the military, the government pounced on the national player. Minister Aluthgamage called for a disciplinary inquiry and punitive action against the former skipper.

Had the UK, based Tamil Diaspora knew of Sangakkara remarks, they would have reacted violently. The Diaspora hated anyone calling the LTTE a terrorist organization. They couldn’t stomach the LTTE’s humiliating defeat hence their anger at anyone commending the Sri Lankan military. In fact, had they realized Sangakkara was to pay a glowing tribute to the military, they would have certainly objected to the MCC extending an invitation to the great Sri Lankan. The UK-based media, supportive of the Diaspora project ignored references which they felt would be advantageous to Sri Lanka. They probably felt embarrassed and were surprised by Sangakkara’s decision.

Sangakkara made his appearance at Lords, in the wake of the massive international propaganda campaign, directed at the Sri Lankan military. The then UN Secretary, General Ban ki moon’s Panel of Experts (PoE) in March, 2011, released its damning report. The PoE accused Sri Lanka of deliberately killing over 40,000 Tamil civilians during the final phase of the offensive. On the basis of unsubstantiated findings, the PoE recommended a controversial course of action ultimately leading to the incumbent government co-sponsoring Geneva Resolution 30/1 to pave the way for hybrid court address accountability issues. In June, 2011, a month before Sangakkara’s appearance at Lords, British media outfit, Channel 4, aired Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields dubbed as an investigative documentary on the final weeks of the war. Sangakkara threw his weight behind the military amidst mounting criticism in respect of alleged battlefield violations. A vast majority of local NGO community, especially those funded by foreign governments and INGOs, pushed for an external probe.

Dew and Gomin on Sanga

The majority of those who had backed the military throughout the campaign, as well as the post-war period, never uttered a word in defense of Sangakkara. They feared to antagonize the government. The writer brought the situation to the attention of the then Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who appreciated positive references to the military, especially in the background of stepped up international campaign inimical to Sri Lanka. Top lawyer, Gomin Dayasiri, and General Secretary of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka Dew Gunasekera, declared that Sangakkara couldn’t have made that statement in the UK at a better time.

Strongly supporting Sangakkara’s demand to tackle waste, corruption and irregularities in the game, Dayasri said that a cohesive strategy was required to stamp out corruption in both public and private sectors. Sangakkara’s speech couldn’t have come at a better time, Dayasri said, adding: "The dashing batsman’s eloquent presentation was very pro-Sri Lanka as against the LTTE terrorism and cricket terrorism. If any politician, or the government, decides to take action against the player, there’ll be a public outcry because the sports personality has courageously exposed the insider dealings in Sri Lanka Cricket. More of Sangakkara’s kind should come to the forefront."

Sangakkara didn’t mince his words when he declared, before the commencement of the World Cup final, in April, 2011, in India, that Sri Lanka couldn’t have held a couple of qualifying matches in Sri Lanka if not for the Army’s triumph over the LTTE.

The previous government, for some strange reason, ignored Sangakkara’s comments, made in July, 2011, as well as declaration made by US Defence Advisor in Colombo Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith a month earlier. Smith dismissed unsubstantiated allegations, directed at the Army on the Vanni east front. The US Defence attache’s declaration couldn’t have been made at a better place as political and military leaderships struggled to come to terms with accusations. The Colombo-based official’s statement prompted the US State Department to issue a strong rebuttal. There had never been a similar instance during the war or after.

The previous government squandered millions of USD on US public relations firms, especially after the end of the conflict, to counter accusations directed at the country. An influential section of the previous government, with the blessings of President Rajapaksa, engaged in an utterly corrupt US project, though they knew such practices couldn’t influence the world’s solitary super power. They stepped up spending on futile projects in the wake of the US moving resolutions against Sri Lanka. But, they never bothered to prepare a proper strategy to counter international criticism and domestic propaganda. Sangakkara’s comments could have made a big impact both here and overseas. His opinion couldn’t have been ignored.

While Sangakkara appreciated those troops who had been deployed in the city and its suburbs, some resented their presence. Some of those who had been hurling abuse at the military are now promoting post-war national reconciliation. None of them had supported the previous government’s efforts to stamp out terrorism. In fact, some of them worked overtime to undermine the previous government.

Sangakkara emphasized the importance of children knowing the sacrifices made by the armed forces and the people to achieve peace. "The war is now over. Sri Lanka looks towards a new future of peace and prosperity. I am eternally grateful for this. It means that my children will grow up without war and violence being a daily part of our lives. They will learn of its horrors not first-hand but perhaps in history class or through conversations for it is important that they understand and appreciate the great and terrible price our country and our people paid for the freedom and security they now enjoy."

Unfortunately, the previous government pathetically failed to meet the aspirations of the people in spite of bringing the war to an end. And those who who had taken power at the January, 2015, presidential polls, caused chaos and the country is in turmoil today. The national economy is in severe crisis though the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe act as if the proposed constitution is panacea for all our problems.

UK Tamils disrupt Mahinda’ s plans

UK Tamils strongly opposed Sri Lankan politicians and security officials involved in the war against terrorism visiting London. In Dec., 2010, over 7,000 UK Tamils protested against the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to London. The UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF) made an abortive bid to move court against Maj. Gen. Chagi Gallage, who had been in President Rajapaksa’s entourage.

In June, 2012, Mahinda Rajapaksa was let down badly by the London-based Commonwealth Business Council that had invited the Sri Lankan leader to deliver the keynote address in a symposium organized by it for the Diamond jubilee of accession to the throne by Queen Elizabeth II of Britain.

Intense political pressure, mounted by Tiger and pro-Tiger elements, in Britain and Europe, compelled the C’wealth Business Council to abruptly cancel the event in which Mahinda Rajapaksa was to participate, on June 6th, 2012.