The facts speak
week's Situation Report in The
Sunday Times headlined "HOW EELAM WAR 4 WAS AVERTED"
has prompted Brgiadier S.G. Karunaratne, Military Spokesman, to
forward what he terms a "clarification." However, he has
not disclosed who the official author or issuing authority of this
"clarification" printed on four plain sheets of paper
is. It only bears the initials of Brig. Karunaratne.
Sunday Times has learnt that Defence Secretary Austin
Fernando prepared this "clarification" with the help of
officials and legal advisers from his own Ministry.
Here is the full text of the four-page (Mr Fernando's) "clarification"
with a reply from Iqbal Athas who wrote the Situation
Eelam War 4 Was Averted
"Your kind attention is drawn to the article titled "How
Eelam War 4 was Averted" by Mr. Iqbal Athas, appeared on page
11 of The Sunday Times of 2-3-2003.
"The article referred to has many factual inaccuracies and
distortions, which could lead to misconceptions among the reading
public at large and even the Security Forces, on how the government
handled the events that took place in Thiriyaya (off Kuchchaweli)
on the 23rd February 2003. We detail below some of the more conspicuous
inaccuracies that could have caused such misconceptions.
Athas states in the exclusive situation report in the last paragraph
of column four that "the SLMM monitors had made
their first determination - for two guerrilla cadres to surrender
with the weapons to the Navy and the rest to the SLMM."
"The factual position however is that the SLMM in its first
ruling did not state anything of that sort. Having emphasized on
the background to the situation in Thiriyaya (off Kuchchaweli),
it stated as follows.
"Ruling: To defuse the situation, Head of SLMM has decided
the following course of action to be taken by both Parties:
a. The units
from SLN/SLA and LTTE will immediately withdraw to GOSL controlled
areas and LTTE controlled areas respectively.
b. The withdrawal
will be supervised by SLMM.
c. The Parties
forces deployed as a result of the incident shall also withdraw
d. The Parties
will inform Head of SLMM when the withdrawals are completed."
would see any similarity between what happened and what is reported
in this article. In the ruling there isn't a word on surrender of
cadres or weapons to the Navy or SLMM. A certified copy of the Fax
Message - I received from SLMM at 7.10 pm on 23-4-03, informing
the first ruling is attached for reference. One would observe that
the reference to the two guerrillas, weapons etc is only a figment
to Mr. Athas, by the second determination or the ruling, there had
been a "proposal for the Navy to release the seven
Tiger guerrillas in exchange for a soldier and Policeman in LTTE
custody." See paragraph two of column 5 of the
report. "Quote below is the second ruling given by the Head
of the SLMM received at 7.26 p.m. on 23-2-93. See annexed Fax Message
"LTTE will immediately release Corporal Kumara (SLA) and RPC
31224 Pon Sumith Anatha Gunasekara held in LTTE custody. The basis
for the ruling is found in the final Paragraph of the Preamble in
the Cease-fire Agreement" Unquote.
the second determination according to the report has relevance to
a prisoner swap and it flows from his imaginary first determination/ruling
- a theory enunciated by the reporter. This is another absolute
falsehood as proved beyond any doubt from the above quoted rulings
given by the HOM/SLMM.
paragraph of column 6 of the report states that the Defence Secretary
has raised the prisoner swap "issue" with Mr. Karuna of
the LTTE in Batticaloa, when they met on the 28th February 2003.
Those who attended this meeting such as the Resident Representative
of the UNICEF and all SLMM personnel who are independent of the
Ministry of Defence or the LTTE would bear witness that it is a
deliberate and mischievous lie.
this matter was raised by Mr. Karuna, both the Secretary of Defence
and Gen. Furuhovde (HOD/SLMM) objected to a prisoner swap as the
circumstances under which these individuals were taken into custody
differed. The Secretary has insisted on honouring, respecting and
adhering to the ruling of the SLMM, for which a swap was not necessary.
The Head of the SLMM endorsed this view and even went to the extent
of requesting Mr. Karuna to inform the LTTE hierarchy to that effect.
What the writer
has tried to do was to fuel the dangerous notion that the Government
was trying to swap prisoners by getting two GOSL prisoners released
having given up thirteen persons (i.e. seven from Thiriyaya incident,
who were only surrounded but could not be taken to custody as they
resisted with shooting/suicidal threats, automatically returned
due to the separation order of the SLMM under the CFA, which the
government had to abide under the circumstances to avert a deadly
clash - six prisoners who are in custody in Trincomalee Remand Prison,
whose release was demanded by LTTE and Mr. Karuna).
If this release
had taken place there would have been utter pandemonium in the south,
and what else could have been in the mind of the writer than the
creation of such calamity, so that there could be another exclusive
situation report on the blunders of individual officers or on the
part of the Government. Therefore, the attempts to create this dangerous
notion could be termed as selfish and irresponsible, not expected
from senior journalists of the calibre of Mr. Athas.
of the two prisoners held by the LTTE on 5.3.03 without any swapping
has proved that the dream world logic of the author has been proved
incorrect. The people who are involved in the peace process know
that the release was on the representations made by the SLMM to
the LTTE, based on the above-mentioned second ruling, which was
constantly supported by the Ministry of Defence. "What the
Hon. Prime Minister stated at the Commonwealth Press Union Biennial
Conference is relevant here, while lamenting that there are instances
of "baseless and inflammatory" reporting.
"Publishing of unsubstantiated news, as well as
deliberate misrepresentations of issues, can undoubtedly cause serious
damage to the peace process."
"How relevant is this statement to this article is unquestionable.
The regret is that a week after this statement was made, still "baseless,
inflammatory and unsubstantiated deliberate misrepresentations"
appear in national newspapers. It is expected that this negative
attitude will cease in the future, not for the sake of the military
establishment or the politicians, but for the sake of our motherland
and its future generations, irrespective of how much individuals
would loose personally by refraining from unethical writing.
"We hold The Sunday Times in high esteem and categorically
state that reports of this nature do not do justice at all to the
credibility of your esteemed newspaper. This is not the first occasion
where the Situation Report has cast aspersions on issues related
to the implementation of the Cease-fire Agreement, based on half-truths.
Ministry of Defence chose to ignore such reporting purely for the
respect we had towards your esteemed newspaper and being disinterested
in engaging ourselves in verbal assault or harangue. Since the malicious
campaign against the Ministry is continued unabated we considered
that it is timely that we put the record straight, at least once
for the public to know what is disseminated in the name of Defence
reporting. We further hope this constructive criticism of your reporting
will not cause the opening of a barrage of wild allegations against
the Defence establishment. It is a pity if it happens so.
"All this mess we believe is due to not verifying the information
received by the writer. It must be stated here that to the credit
of some journalists in your newspaper and many others, verification
of information is made before publication. If Mr. Athas requires
such verification we would always gladly treat him in the same manner
we oblige others. I believe that such interaction would eliminate
making silly mistakes as had been done in this report and moreover
prevent deliberate misrepresentation of the truth and misguiding
the readership of your valuable and esteemed newspaper.
We trust that in keeping with fairness expected from a responsible
and esteemed national newspaper you will publish this clarification
in its entirety, by giving equal publicity, as given to the quoted
Iqbal Athas adds:
Mr. Austin Fernando, the Defence Secretary has, to say the least,
not had the elementary courtesy to identify himself with a statement
he co-authors. That may be asking too much from him. Hiding behind
the shield of the Military Spokesman, the Defence Secretary makes
personal insinuations and inuendo which only reveals his own character
Let me deal with the three actual matters that (Mr Fernando's) "clarification"
seeks to challenge: 1. It challenges the paragraph that says "the
SLMM monitors had made their first determination - for two guerrilla
cadres to surrender with the weapons to the Navy and the rest to
"clarification" says "there isn't a word on surrender
of cadres or weapons to the Navy or SLMM…." Pointing
out that it is "only a figment of imagination" the "clarification"
goes on to quote an SLMM ruling to give what is claimed to be "the
Mr. Fernando has conveniently chosen to ignore the factual position
given by the Sri Lanka Navy whose men were at the scene. It is not
too late, even at this stage, for Mr. Fernando to refer to the "restricted"
signal COMEAST (Commander Eastern Naval Area) sent to Naval Headquarters
on February 24. The D.T.G. (Date, Time Group) Number is 2422100203.
This is what the relevant paragraph (IV) says:
"SLMM MEMBERS AND CCON (Reference is to Contingent Commander)
ARRIVED LOCATION AND NEGOTIATED WITH LTTE. LTTE TEAM LEADER REFUSED
SURRENDER WITH WEAPONS. ON A DISCUSSION CCON AND LTTE TEAM LEADER
CCON HAD MANAGED TO OBTAIN CONSENT TO SURRENDER TWO LTTE CADRES
WITH WEAPONS TO SLN AND OTHERS TO SLMM. PROPOSAL CONVEYED TO SLMM
SUBSEQUENTLY TWO CADRES WITH WEAPONS SURRENDERED TO SLN. CCON REQUESTED
INSTRUCTIONS FROM COMEAST TO PROCEED WITH PROPOSAL……
The CCOM referred to is Sri Lanka Navy's own representative who
negotiated with the LTTE together with the SLMM members. He was
identified in the Situation Report last week as Commander K.K.J.
Silva, Contingent Commander who is based at the SLN detachment in
Nilaveli. He was the senior-most Navy officer and consequently the
highest-ranking Government representative on the spot. He has not
only referred categorically to the first SLMM determination but
also negotiated on behalf of Mr. Fernando’s Government.
then is a lowly attempt being made to hide the role-played by this
senior Navy official who was the senior-most Government representative
(together with the SLMM) at the negotiations in Kuchchaweli? How
does it, therefore, become a "figment of imagination."
Why this sinister move to hide the truth?
2. The "clarification" next challenges the reference made
to a "proposal for the Navy to release the seven Tiger guerrillas
in exchange for a soldier and Policeman in LTTE custody." Mr.
Fernando says the "report has relevance to a prisoner swap"
and claims "this is another absolute falsehood." Well,
here is more to confirm what I reported.
As I said last week, Defence Secretary Austin Fernando dealt with
matters relating to the Kuchchaveli incident from the office of
Major General Sarath Fonseka, Security Forces Commander, Jaffna,
in the late afternoon of February 23.
following were among those present with him: Minister Milinda Moragoda,
Army Commander Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle, Navy Commander Vice Admiral
Daya Sandagiri, Air Force Commander Air Marshal Donald Perera, Rear
Admiral Nandana Tuduwewatte, Commander, Northern Naval Area and
Group Captain Kolitha Gunatilleke, Air Officer Commanding, SLAF
Defence Secretary Fernando was dealing on the telephone with Gen.
(retd) Trond Furuhovde about the rounding up of the seven guerrilla
cadres near Kuchchaveli. He was watched by a senior Cabinet Minister
and high ranking military officials. When he was told about the
SLMM's first determination, Mr. Fernando was not satisfied.
made a second telephone call to Gen. Furuhovde to make a plea on
behalf of the soldier (Nihal Kumara) and Constable (Ananda Gunasekera)
who were then in LTTE custody. Whilst pointing out that as a Government,
they were obliged to accept the determinations of the SLMM, Mr.
Fernando made the point that the release of the soldier and constable
would have to be ensured. He said otherwise there would not only
be strong media criticism but the Government would find it difficult
to face the people in the South.
have re-confirmed this with many who were present in Maj. Gen. Fonseka's
room and others. I am at a loss to understand why on earth, the
"clarification" attempts to hide this truth. It is because
Mr. Fernando raised issue that the SLMM in their second determination
(a copy was delivered to The Sunday Times together with the "clarification")
declared "LTTE will immediately release Corporal Kumara and
This same document (SLMM’s second determination) declares
in paragraph one that "As a result of repeatedly arrests (sic)
of strayed individuals and with reference to the extremely dangerous
situation West of Kuchchaveli, HOM (Head of Mission) has made the
"LTTE will immediately release Corporal Kumara (SLA) and RPC
31224 Don Sumith Ananda Gunasekera held in LTTE custody. The basis
for the ruling is found in the final Paragraph of the Preamble in
Cease-fire Agreement." In other words, SLMM acted on Mr. Fernando's
representations and made this second determination.
Next, the author of the clarification says, I referred to a "prisoner
swap" issue being discussed between Mr. Fernando and Mr. Karuna
of the LTTE in Batticaloa on February 28. This is an ugly attempt
to mislead the public. Dealing with the talks with Mr. Karuna, I
made no reference to any "prisoner swap" in this column.
Here is what I said (Situation Report - March 2) dealing with Mr.
Fernando's talks with Mr Karuna: "….But there was no
news in the days that followed about the soldier and the policemen,
much to the chagrin of the SLMM. They wrote a strong letter to the
"Defence Secretary Fernando raised issue with LTTE's "Eastern
Commander, Colonel" Karuna, with whom he held talks in Batticaloa.…."
How did the author of the "clarification" come to the
conclusion that I raised the "prisoner swap issue” The
author has got his knickers in a twist.
The issue here was not so much as what Mr. Fernando raised, did
not raise or was hesitant to raise. I was making the point that
the Government has not been able to secure the release of a single
soldier who had been languishing in an LTTE jail for nearly three
months. And a constable was taken in only just over two weeks ago.
And now, LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran ordered their release
only last Wednesday. That was only after SLMM Chief, Trond Furuhovde
and his new successor Triggve Tellefson met him.
Mr. Fernando’s "clarification" is therefore a futile
attempt to not only hide the truth but to villify those who report
it. I thank the author of this "clarification" for reminding
me of the sacred journalistic edict of checking facts. I would,
however, advise him, as a person holding a responsible office, to
practise his own gratuitous advice.
More so when he unashamedly wants all the media to “interact”
with him, to use his own words, “to eliminate making silly
mistakes ... to prevent deliberate misinterpretation of the truth...”