By Shamindra Ferdinando
The British parliament was told, on Oct 12, 2017 that Velupillai Prabhakaran killed Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duraiappah in 1973. The statement was made by Michael Morris, Baron Naseby PC, during a debate on Sri Lanka. Having declared that he launched the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sri Lanka, way back in 1975, the politician urged Theresa May’s government to review its policy as regards post-war accountability process in relation to the Geneva Resolution 30/1 adopted on Oct 1, 2015.
Very few foreign politicians could have declared that they had known Sri Lanka for over 50 years. Baron Naseby said that he was the current President of the All-Party Parliamentary Group and knew Sri Lanka for over 50 years.
But, having perused Baron Naseby’s statement, the writer is of the opinion that for want of a clear strategy on Sri Lanka’s part, the world didn’t really know the origins of terrorism here. What his statement proved was that Baron Naseby lacked understanding of the situation here. Let me reproduce verbatim Baron Naseby’s comment on Duraiappah’s assassination: “In 1973 Prabhakaran killed the Mayor of Jaffna, along with six soldiers, whose bodies were brought to Colombo. There was a resentful response from the Sinhalese youth, very sadly it was three days before a curfew was brought in, and well over 1,000 Tamils were killed. From then on it has been a situation of Eelam, the independent state, on one side versus the unitary state of Sri Lanka on the other.”
Would you be able to swiftly recognize Baron Naseby’s mistake? Those who had shared the report on the debate, initiated by Baron Naseby on the internet, obviously didn’t recognize the glaring but inadvertent blunder that had distorted the picture. The British politician has, obviously, due to lack of understanding and knowledge of the situation here, considered the assassination of Duraiappah, in July 1975, and the killing of 13 soldiers at Thinnaveli, Jaffna, in July 1983, as one incident.
Duraiappah was gunned down on July 27, 1975 when he arrived by car at the Ponnalai Varadaraja Perumal Temple with two companions, as was his custom on Friday evenings.
Mixing up of Duraiappah’s assassination, in 1975, with the wiping out of an army patrol, eight years later, highlights Sri Lanka’s pathetic failure to brief the international community.
The LTTE killed two soldiers, outside a hardware store, in Jaffna in Oct 1981. They were the first SLA personnel to die in the hands of the LTTE.
At the time Prabhakaran shot dead Duraiappah, the victim didn’t have even a police bodyguard, let alone soldiers.
Baron Naseby has, inadvertently, stated that anti-Tamil riots, that claimed 1,000 lives, had taken place in 1973, whereas they occurred in July 1983.
Invasions on Sri Lanka
Baron Naseby referred to the Chola invasion of Sri Lanka and the subsequent Portuguese, Dutch and British colonisation of the country, though absolutely no reference was made to Indian intervention in the 80s. No less a person than the late Indian National Security Advisor (May 2004-Jan 2005) in his memoirs, Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun to Yashwant Sinha had admitted that India militarily intervened in Sri Lanka to thwart US-Israel-Pakistan using the country to New Delhi’s disadvantage. The shocking admission made by Jyotindra Nath Dixit, who had been New Delhi’s High Commissioner in Colombo during the deployment of the Indian Army (July 1987-March 1990) should be studied keeping in mind the then Cold War environment, with India solidly backing the Soviet Union. Dixit, boldly blamed the then PM Indira Gandhi for Sri Lanka destabilization project started by Delhi in the early 80s to teach a lesson to overtly pro-Western Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene, on top of tacit support for Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in Dec 1979. Dixit called those Gandhi decisions the only foreign policy blunders made during her tenure as the PM (1966-1984). She was assassinated on October 31, 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards for ordering the storming of their holiest site, Golden Temple in Amritsar in June of that year.
For want of a cohesive strategy, Sri Lanka hadn’t been able to counter the massive propaganda project meant to pave the way for a new Constitution in the guise of addressing accountability issues. If Sri Lanka hadn’t been able to properly brief its friends, there is absolutely no point in blaming those wanting to achieve their despicable objectives through constitutional means, after having failed to overwhelm the Sri Lankan military. Baron Naseby’s statement has proved beyond doubt that successive governments lacked strategy to brief both friend and foe and rectify glaring mistakes.
The military brought the war to a successful conclusion on May 19, 2009, not on May 18, 2009, as stated by Baron Naseby.
But, Baron Naseby, quite rightly, explained the urgent need to reexamine the primary allegation directed at the Sri Lankan military as regards the number of civilians killed. Baron Naseby did it much better than any Sri Lankan politician, or Foreign Ministry has done so far. Having pointed out the absurdity and unfairness in the allegation that 40,000 civilians had perished in the offensive, Baron Naseby said: “…the UK must now get the UN and the UNHCR in Geneva to accept a civilian casualty level of 7,000 to 8,000, not 40,000. On top of that, the UK must recognize that this was a war against terrorism, so the rules of engagement are based on international humanitarian law, not the European Convention on Human Rights.”
Having relentlessly pursued Sri Lanka during the Rajapaksa administration and forced the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government to co-sponsor Geneva Resolution 30/1 in spite of it being inimical to Sri Lanka, the UK will not, under any circumstances, accept a lower casualty figure.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon of the Conservative Party, in his response, on behalf of the government, indicated, in no uncertain terms that the May administration wouldn’t seek reappraisal of casualty figures. “My noble friends Lord Naseby and Lord Sheikh talked about the numbers killed. While the differential may remain, what is undisputed is that a number of civilians died in the final stages of the war and there are still serious allegations of human rights abuses against both the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers.”
Lord Ahmad’s response revealed that they really didn’t know how many civilians died on the Vanni east front. The British response also disclosed that they didn’t have faith in the much touted UN Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka whose report released on March 31, 2011, placed the number of civilians killed at 40,000. Had the British accepted the UN report, Lord Ahmad, wouldn’t have hesitated to directly quote from it. Instead, Lord Ahmad side-stepped Baron Naseby’s challenge. Interestingly, the State Minister conveniently refrained from using specific information provided by Colombo-based wartime British Defence Attache Lieutenant Colonel Anton Gash to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office during January 1-May 19, 2009 period. Had the State Minister placed the confidential information that had been provided by Gash, the lies propagated against Sri Lanka would have been exposed.
Discipline and success of the Sri Lankan Army
Baron Naseby quoted Gash as having told him, in January 2009, that he was amazed at the controlled discipline and success of the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) and in particular the care that it was taking to encourage civilians to escape and how well they were looked after, and that certainly there was no policy to kill civilians. Baron Naseby said that there could not be a better military man than Gash to express such an opinion. The politician described Gash as knowledgeable, independent and would be authoritative about what happened on the Vanni front.
The writer had the opportunity to meet Baron Naseby twice during the Rajapaksa administration. Once, the British politician visited The Island editorial to meet Editor-in-Chief Prabath Sahabandu and the writer for journalistic perspective of the conflict.
Obviously, the British had been concerned about the reports sent by Gash as they certainly exposed the absurdity of accusations made against the SLA. The British had shamelessly suppressed those reports while stepping up pressure on Sri Lanka to address accountability issues on the basis of mass killings committed on the Vanni east front. Thanks to Baron Naseby’s effort to secure reports sent in by Gash, during the Vanni offensive, the entire world got to know how the British desperately tried to hold in vital information that would have cleared the SLA. Unfortunately, the SLA failed to gather the required information and evidence, in a systematic way, to counter lies. Since the conclusion of the war, in May 2009, the SLA had done precious nothing to defend itself much to the disappointment of families of those courageous officers and men who died in the battle against terrorism. (In June, 2011, the SLA, during Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya’s command, simply ignored a statement made by the then US Defence Attache, Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith in support of Sri Lanka. The statement made in response to a question posed by retired Indian Army Major General Ashok Mehta to Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva regarding battlefield executions in May 2009 could have been the basis of SLA’s defence. But, the SLA didn’t even bother to examine it. The Island’s exclusive report by the writer on the US Defence Attache’s statement was not challenged by the US embassy. But, the US State Department declared that Lt. Colonel Smith wasn’t there in any official capacity. Whatever, his status at the first defence seminar, organized by the SLA, the officer was there, defended the SLA, though those in authority lacked the strength to exploit the opportunity for Sri Lanka’s advantage.)
Baron Naseby explained in parliament how the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office had dismissed his 2014 request for Gash’s reports pertaining to the period January 1 to May 19, 2009, in accordance with the freedom of information law. Thereafter, Baron Naseby’s appeals to higher officials, too, had been rejected, prompting the intrepid politician to seek the intervention of the Information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner’s intervention resulted in the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office making available 26 pages of heavily redacted dispatches from Gash. Had Gash condemned the SLA, those reports would have been extensively used by the British and the British media outfits such as Channel 4 years ago. Had the British not done so, the May government would have used them during debate on Sri Lanka in response to Baron Naseby.
The Baron explained to British parliament how he had received an additional 12 pages, all redacted, from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office when he pointed out insufficient number of Gash reports.
Baron Naseby explained how he gave up his struggle for Sri Lanka when judges of the First-tier Tribunal upheld the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office assertion that had they revealed confidential information they wouldn’t receive such information in the future. It would be better to reproduce verbatim what Baron Naseby told parliament: “…Still concerned about the lack of dispatches in the past few days, I made a final appeal to the First-tier Tribunal, assisted my very good friend Amal Abeywardene. We had the sympathy of the judges for the cause, but they accepted the Foreign Office view that if confidential information was given out, nobody in future would give us any more. So I now have the princely sum of 39 pages of heavily redacted dispatches—nevertheless, if you dig deeply, as in life, you find some real gems. For example, on 28 January:
“It is not possible to distinguish civilians from LTTE cadres as few are in uniform”.
Then, from 16 February: “IDPs being cared for in Trincomalee. Welfare appears to be overriding security considerations”.
Then on 20 January they say, “no cluster munitions were used”, and on 26 April, “civilians killed Feb 1-April 26—6432”.
Obviously, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office stance cannot be acceptable as the person making available information in this case Lt. Colonel Gash was a British government employee. The British position could have been acceptable if those dispatches were sent by a mole within the Sri Lankan establishment. Those who had perused Wiki Leaks now know how our honourable members of parliament provided information to US diplomats in Colombo regarding a range of matters.
Situation on the Vanni east front.
The reports submitted by Gash and Smith should be compared to ascertain the situation on the Vanni east front. The British and the American defence attaches would have shared information as well as ‘sources’ within the then administration, including the military as well as the LTTE. A thorough examination of despatches from US, British, Indian, Japanese, ICRC and UN missions will establish how the SLA behaved on the Vanni east front.
In fact, the UN Panel of Experts, headed by one-time Indonesian Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, admitted the existence of UN report that placed the number of dead at 7,721 and 18,479 injured from Aug 2008 to May 13, 2009. For some strange reason, Sri Lanka never officially requested the UN to release that report or requested the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to examine it.
The UN report that dealt with 10 months should be compared with the UN Panel of Experts report which placed the number of civilians killed during the last phase (reference to Jan-May 2009 period) at 40,000.
Office of Missing Persons (OMP)
Can there be anything as unfair as demanding Sri Lanka to establish Office of Missing Persons (OMP) and introduce new law against enforced disappearances to ascertain the truth while refusing to share information vital to achieve the same purpose. The British should be ashamed, especially because British national Anton Balasingham influenced the murderous LTTE for over three decades. UK-based Balasingham played a significant role in overall LTTE strategy hence there cannot be any dispute regarding his culpability for political assassinations—from TULF leader Papilla Thingamajig in 1989, Raj iv Gandhi in May 1991 and Lakshman Margarita in Aug 2005.
Both Gash and Smith would have had to send many dispatches as the SLA rapidly encircled the LTTE after having inflicted the single biggest battlefield defeat on Prabhakaran in early April 2009. The LTTE had no chance of reaching an understanding with the government following the Anandapuram battle that resulted in irrevocable damages. Among the dead were top commanders, including Pathuman, once the proud commander of LTTE formations deployed on the northern front.
Baron Naseby has exposed the British efforts to suppress the truth.
Interestingly, during the Oct 12, 2017 debate there hadn’t been any reference to a previous debate in the House of Commons on ‘human rights in the Indian sub-continent.’
Long standing LTTE supporter Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Labour) told the House of Commons on Sept. 15, 2011 that Sri Lanka’s war, in its last five months alone, had claimed the lives of 100,000 people, 40,000 of them civilians.
The MP never explained how she had come to such a conclusion and her claim should be now re-examined against the backdrop of Minister of State Foreign and Commonwealth side-stepping Baron Naseby’s challenge. McDonagh never responded to The Island queries regarding her controversial statement while the British High Commission in Colombo declined to confirm whether the MP had sought information from the diplomatic mission. The British High Commission adopted a similar stance when the writer asked whether the politician sought information from the mission.
Sri Lanka never conducted a proper investigation into various allegations/claims made in respect of Sri Lanka’s war. Had the government done that Sri Lanka could have exposed the big lie propagated by various interested parties.
Number of civilians killed during war
UK-based Amnesty International, in its bulletin headlined ‘WHEN WILL THEY GET JUSTICE?,’ estimated the number of civilians killed at 10,000 on the basis of information provided by eye-witnesses and aid workers. The September 2011 report however didn’t make any reference to the number of combatants killed during Eelam war IV or the final five months.
If Amnesty International had based its report on eyewitnesses and aid workers, it would be interesting to know who briefed British MP McDonagh regarding the ground situation.
MP McDonagh thanked the previous British government for terminating the GSP plus trade facility given to Sri Lanka, opposing Sri Lanka receiving IMF stand-by facility amounting to $ 2.6 billion and thwarting a move to host the Commonwealth Summit in Colombo
The MP said: “Britain must take a brave and principled lead—just as we did in Kosovo and, with France, in Libya—and do all that it can to ensure that a full independent international investigation of war crimes takes place. Those of us who believe in justice want the people responsible to be held to account, just as all of us would agree about Colonel Gaddafi, Radovan Karadzic and Charles Taylor. Sri Lanka still wants to host the Commonwealth Summit in 2013. We should be clearly saying “No, not until there is a fully independent, UN-led international inquiry. I hope that if one thing comes out of today’s debate, it will be that commitment.”
That statement was clearly meant to prevent Sri Lanka hosting the useless Commonwealth Summit 2013. Had she succeeded, millions of taxpayers money could have been saved. Those who had been working with Tamil Diaspora pursued anti-Sri Lanka campaign at different levels. They had succeeded primarily due to Sri Lanka’s failure. Let there be a fresh call to the international community to re-examine allegations in the wake of debate on Sri Lanka in the UK parliament.
(To be continued on Nov. 1)