MoD report notwithstanding, time bomb ticking away

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) issued a long-awaited, very belated report on what it called a 'Humanitarian Operation - Factual Analysis July 2006-May 2009'; an account of the last days of the military campaign to defeat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) with a general overview of the terrorist organisation.

The thrust of the report is a justification of that military campaign, and the use of force commensurate to the military threat that was posed to the government's Security Forces by the LTTE. Whether this report will defuse the gathering avalanche of criticism that continues against the Sri Lankan State on allegations of humanitarian law violations from governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) is too early to tell.

The point that news agencies have picked up is that Sri Lanka has now admitted to civilian casualties when in the recent past it had claimed that a 'zero casualty policy' put in place at the time meant zero casualties.

For any reasonable person to believe that no civilian deaths occurred as the Security Forces advanced into the LTTE-held territory, entrapped the terrorists and eventually eliminated them, is, to say the least, a bit foolish. No doubt the initial blame is with the government for making such a foolhardy claim. Sometimes the government says the most astounding things and expects the world to believe them.

The MoD has, therefore, done the right thing in setting the record straight. It now says that the main objective of the military operation - which it is entitled to say was a humanitarian operation -- was "minimising casualties". The fact that the LTTE was a deadly terrorist organisation is now well beyond debate. The US State Department accorded it the dubious distinction of referring to it as the deadliest terrorist organisation in the world, ahead of its own public enemy No. 1, al-Qaeda. The LTTE was banned in the US, Britain, all of Europe, India, Malaysia and other countries. Lord Chris Patten, the well known British politician, someone who has met the LTTE leadership has written in his (2008) book 'What next? Surviving the twenty first century', that "the scale of the Tamil insurgency makes the LTTE rather different from most terrorist groups".

In the same book, Lord Patten also writes how difficult it was for Britain to convince US politicians not to fund the Irish Republican Army (IRA) - until, inter-alia, the 9/11 incident took place. Immediately thereafter, on September 20, 2001 US President George W. Bush Jnr., announced; "Our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated".

US foreign policy, however, does not match those words. While the recent assassination of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the dumping of his body at sea pass without a hum, the US government has thought it fit to serve a demarche, a formal diplomatic message to the Sri Lankan government that it wishes the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), now in session in Sri Lanka, to be discussed at next year's UN Human Rights Council meeting. It comes hard on the heels of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent remarks in nearby Chennai that there needs to be some "innovative thinking" on the Sri Lankan ethnic issue (and how to get us to toe the US line).

While this demarche is not only interference in Sri Lanka's internal affairs it also places an unfair burden on the LLRC by virtually pre-judging its findings. This is a classic case of trying to influence the LLRC before it writes its report by the application of pressure tactics. It also goes beyond this disservice to the LLRC by bringing the subject into a world forum that has the power to vote on bringing those responsible for war crimes inquiries and imposing sanctions against countries - such is the seriousness of this move.

The MoD report has some flaws. For instance, it gives the impression that the Norwegian peace process facilitators were introduced by the short-lived United National Party government of 2001-2004 when in fact it was this government under a previous dispensation that was responsible. There are also sketchy details where there ought to have been more information, such as the LTTE's global octopus-like reach. Yet, it also gives some startling statistics.

It says that 37 Members of Parliament, 7 of them Cabinet Ministers, a sitting President and a former Prime Minister of India, 10 leaders of political parties, 4 Mayors etc., have been assassinated by the LTTE, also 19,282 soldiers killed and more than 80,000 of them maimed for life. The annexures in the report detail the military hardware that was in the LTTE armoury. The LTTE was no group of Boy Scouts.

By its own admission, the collection of data that went into the MoD's 161page report had not been easy because of the unavailability of documentation in one given place. That is why we have repeatedly said that the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of Foreign Relations and Strategic Studies was set up for just this task. This Institute came under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (now External Affairs), then the President took it under his wing, but on May 3 this year it was gazetted back to the Ministry. To date the incumbent Minister has not given it life by appointing its Board. The President made a big mistake in transferring it to this Minister given his prejudices and incompetence. It ought to have been placed under the MoD which at least is trying to do its part in the post-war scenario of foreign meddling.

Now, India has joined the band-wagon -- almost synchronising with the US -- on insisting that Sri Lanka should go outside the LLRC in investigating allegations of humanitarian law violations. In a suo moto address in the Lok Sabha (Indian Parliament) India's External Affairs Minister has referred to the UN Secretary General's Panel report on Sri Lanka, given credence to the British Channel 4 'documentary' entitled 'Sri Lanka's killing fields' and called for "investigations into allegations of human rights violations" when India knows that these charges are being investigated. So much for our lobbying.

The MoD report refers to post-war benefits that have accrued to the country from the liberation of the North and East from the clutches of the LTTE. That is a different debate altogether. The democratisation of the North and East, and the South, is lagging well behind. As the late Mr. Kadirgamar said in a speech way back in 1965 (please visit the related article : Each of us must share the responsibility of our common woes), a democratic state is in principle obliged not merely to permit but to encourage democracy.

The road ahead is long and arduous with many hurdles to clear as the US, Europe, and now India up the ante on the need for Sri Lanka to investigate alleged war crimes in the days leading up to the defeat of terrorism here. It is not that these countries don't know what terrorism is all about as they grapple with it themselves. It is politics, and partly Sri Lanka's own anti-West foreign policy and its flirtations with China that is at the root of it. The UN Secretary General's panel report on Sri Lanka, and now a British television programme remain as time-bombs ticking away. How well equipped are we to defuse this snowballing avalanche?

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Editorial Archive 2011 
09th January 2011 - Reciprocity to visitors
23rd January 2011 - Food crisis: The balanced diet
06th February 2011 - Independence 2011 and beyond
13th February 2011 - The message from Egypt
20th March 2011 - Be with Japan, be prepared
27th March 2011 - Without FIA, more sabhas will mean more crooks
03rd April 2011 - Sports: Heroes and villains
10th April 2011 - Move towards direct democracy
17th April 2011 - A report that seeks to open old wounds
24th April 2011 - Clinically shred war crimes allegations
01st May 2011 - May Day: Distress call from migrant workers
08th May 2011 - Global 'dupli-macy' and what’s fair in war
15th May 2011 - The light of Asia and the Dhammadvipa
22nd May 2011 - Diplomatic debacle
29th May 2011 - India destabilising Lanka again
05th June 2011 - The reality and the rhetoric
12th June 2011 - Stop the pressure, give space to LLRC
19th June 2011 - Revise the Indo-Lanka accord
26th June 2011 - Damning NAM
03rd July 2011 - Govt. says ‘No’ to a modern citizen’s Right
10th July 2011 - People in the dark in every way
17th July 2011 - Mumbai attacks: Lessons for Lanka
24th July 2011 - Govt. ignoring epidemic of corruption
31st July 2011 - Communal politics must end
07th August 2011 - MoD report notwithstanding, time bomb ticking away
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