by Shamindra Ferdinando
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera yesterday blamed the previous government for not having a credible investigative mechanism to disprove unsubstantiated allegation that 40,000 civilian had been killed during the last phase of offensive action on the Vanni east front.
Minister Samaraweera was responding to a query by The Island whether the new government would make an effort to establish the truth in the wake of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe strongly disputing much touted figure of 40,000 civilian deaths.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe recently told H.A. Hariharan of Tamil Nadu’s famous Thanthi TV that accusations had to be verified because of discrepancy in estimates made by various parties. The Foreign Minister endorsed the Prime Minister’s stand.
The previous government had failed in its duty to act sensibly in the face of war crimes allegations, MP Samaraweera said. Instead of taking tangible measures to prove those who had been making accusations wrong, the government engaged in a mudslinging campaign, the minister said. Had there been a comprehensive domestic investigation, Sri Lanka’s image wouldn’t have been sullied, Samaraweera said.
Pledging to set up a credible local investigative mechanism before the next sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Minister Samaraweera acknowledged that he, too, felt the death toll couldn’t be as high as 40,000. However, even if 1,000 civilians had perished, the government couldn’t ignore the pivotal importance of establishing the truth, the Minister said. Pointing out that the Sri Lankan military had been engaged in a civil war, the outspoken MP said that they were all Sri Lankans; therefore the previous government shouldn’t make a song and dance about the triumph over the LTTE. The South bled in the 80s.
Thousands died during late 80s when the military suppressed the second JVP led insurgency, the Matara District MP said, adding that the issue as regards the conflict that ended in May 2009 wasn’t whether 40,000 or 1,000 killings but a credible process to establish the truth. The minister further said that tangible measures were required to investigate cases of missing persons.
Samaraweera insisted that he always believed in a comprehensive and transparent investigation to establish the circumstances under which the war was brought to a successful conclusion. The accountability issue was discussed even on presidential campaign rallies in the deep South, he said, adding that the new government would meet its obligations. The minister reiterated the government’s readiness to accept international expertise to inquire into war crimes allegations.
Responding to another query, the Minister said that the new administration was working to a time line in the run-up to the next Geneva session. The Foreign Minister said that the proposed local investigative mechanism would be ready before the September Geneva session.
UK media outfit, Channel 4 News alleged 40,000 civilians’ deaths during the final assault. The accusation was repeated by the UN in March 2011. However, the UK parliament was told in September 2011 of 100,000 LTTE and civilian deaths during fighting from January – May 19, 2009.
However, the UN estimated the total number of deaths in the Vanni from August 2008 to May 13, 2009 at less than 8,000.