Sunday, December 13, 2009

'Defence Secretary ordered to shoot the surrendered LTTE leaders' says former SL Army Chief

By Frederica Jansz - Common opposition candidate General Sarath Fonseka says Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa instructed a key ground commander in the north that all LTTE leaders must be killed and not allowed to surrender.

In an explosive interview with The Sunday Leader General Fonseka the then Army Commander said he had no information communicated to him in the final days of the war that three key LTTE leaders had opted to surrender to Sri Lanka’s armed forces as the battle drew to a bloody finish.

Fonseka charged that communications were instead confined between the LTTE leaders, Norway, various foreign parties, Basil Rajapaksa, Member of Parliament and the powerful senior adviser to the President and such information was never conveyed to him as he supervised the final stages of the war. “Later, I learnt that Basil had conveyed this information to the Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa – who in turn spoke with Brigadier Shavendra Silva, Commander of the Army’s 58th Division, giving orders not to accommodate any LTTE leaders attempting surrender and that “they must all be killed.”

General Fonseka explained how on the night of May 17th this year desperate efforts of three senior LTTE leaders trapped in the war zone to save their lives failed as they were instead shot dead as they prepared to surrender to government forces.

The government later claimed that troops found bodies of three key LTTE leaders identified as Nadesan, Pulidevan and Ramesh during the mop- up operations in the last LTTE stronghold on the morning of May 18.

General Fonseka said the incident took place as the remaining LTTE cadres were boxed into a 100m x 100m area, North of Vellamullivaikkal.

Balasingham Nadeshan a former police constable of Sri Lanka police was the political head of the LTTE. Seevaratnam Pulidevan was the head of “LTTE peace secretariat” while Ramesh a senior special commander of the military wing.

Hours before they surrendered, in a flurry of emails, text messages and telephone calls between NGOs, a foreign government and Sri Lankan officials in Colombo, the two LTTE political leaders had frantically inquired as to how they could give themselves up.

They were told: “Get a piece of white cloth, put up your hands and walk towards the other side in a non-threatening manner.”

But the attempt to surrender by the three LTTE leader and their families failed. Sometime between midnight on 17 May and the early hours of the next morning, the three men and their family members were shot dead.

General Fonseka said it was Basil Rajapaksa together with the Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa who through foreign intermediaries conveyed a message back to the LTTE leaders who wished to surrender to walk out carrying a piece of white cloth. “It was their idea,” he said.


When we contacted Shavendra Silva, now promoted to Major General he sounded very shocked when told of the allegation but insisted he could not respond to this charge until he had clearance from the military spokesman.

Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told us he had to get clearance from the Army Commander Jagath Jayasuriya.

Later in the day the military spokesman said that he had contacted both the Army Commander and General Shavindra Silva and both had said that they would not comment on the matter.

The chief intermediary for the three LTTE men was the Norwegian government’s then Environment and Development Minister Erik Solheim. (Solheim is now the overseas development minister) On Sunday 17 May, Mr Solheim apparently received calls from LTTE figures who said they wanted to surrender.

The ICRC in Colombo later confirmed that it had received word from the Norwegians that the two leaders were looking to give themselves up. “The ICRC was approached on this matter by the representatives of the LTTE as well as the Norwegian authorities,” spokeswoman Sarasi Wijeratne was quoted saying at the time of the incident. “The information was referred to the Sri Lankan authorities. We have no idea what happened [then]. We lost contact with everyone in the last conflict.”

The government’s point man in the negotiations appears to have been former foreign secretary Palitha Kohona who is now Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the United nations He was quoted by news agencies saying that in the days leading up to Sunday evening, he had received a number of messages indicating from Mr. Nadesan and Mr Pulidevan – whom he has met at various peace talks – wanting a way out.

In one interview with ‘SiberNews’ Mr. Kohona said that his response had been that “there was only one way to surrender that is recognised by military practice”. He said they should obtain a white flag and give themselves up. “I kept saying this for three days,” he added.

But General Fonseka maintains that Nadesan, Ramesh and Pulidevan had been shot dead by government troops as they advanced towards them carrying a white flag, as they had been instructed to do.

Fonseka said he later learnt about what exactly had taken place as a result of journalists who had been entrenched at the time with General Shavendra Silva’s brigade command. These reporter’s according to Fonseka were privy to the telephone call received by the Army’s 58th Brigade Commander from the Defence Secretary –“telling him to not accommodate any LTTE surrenders but to simply go ahead and kill them.” – “These journalists later told me what exactly took place,” Fonseka said.


“Norway never got in touch” – Basil Rajapaksa

Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa refuted this damning charge. He told The Sunday Leader, “The Norwegians never got in touch with me over this particular incident. I have been in touch with the Norwegians over various issues pertaining to the conflict but never once on this particular issue.”

When asked if he had been unaware then that three LTTE leaders were seeking surrender during the last stages of the war – Rajapaksa replied, “No. I won’t say that. But Norway never got in touch with me.”

Asked nevertheless if he did convey something to this effect to his brother and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Mr. Rajapaksa said “If I had not been informed by Norway in the first instance then obviously the second did not happen.”

Our attempts to contact Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa failed. When we telephoned the Defence Ministry Friday we were told Mr. Rajapaksa had not been in office the entire day. His staff refused to release any other telephone number.

© The Sunday Leader

Related Links:
Tamil Tigers shot 'trying to surrender' - The Sydney Morning Herald
Tamil Tiger leaders were shot 'while trying to surrender' - Telegraph
Top LTTE leaders killed while trying to surrender - IANS
Role of British diplomats in Tamil leaders' failed surrender bid - Guardian
Tigers begged me to broker surrender - Times Online

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Attacks on media: The story unfolds

Sunday Times Political Editor - Despite reports that the US would seek "a more positive relationship" with Sri Lanka based on a bi-partisan accord reached by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Blake was on track. He raised almost all issues of concern to the Obama administration and later fielded questions from the media at a news conference on Thursday.

A significant aspect was references to the media though most outlets did not focus upon the fact. Blake declared in a prepared text, "An important element of reconciliation is safeguarding and protecting the rights of all Sri Lankans. In practice, this means that journalists should be able to write their perspectives and report on events freely, without fear of reprisal; that individuals should be able to voice their differences openly; and that people who have violated the rights of others should be held accountable for their actions."

The statement, the official viewpoint of the Government of the United States, assumes greater significance in the light of the buck-passing that is now going on. Gen. (retd.) Sarath Fonseka continues to insist he had nothing to do with murder, assaults, intimidation, harassment or the white-van abductions of journalists, democracy activists and others. More pointedly, he told the National Association of Lawyers on November 27 that he had nothing to do in the killing of Lasantha Wickramatunge, Editor of The Sunday Leader. He stood near United National Front leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, as he garlanded a portrait of the slain editor cum lawyer. Now the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), which has taken over investigations, is to question Gen. Fonseka on the murder of Wickramatunge.

A response to those remarks by Gen. Fonseka came from Defence Secretary, Lt. Col. (retd.) Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, his arch foe now. He told our sister paper the Irida Lankadeepa (November 29) during a lengthy interview, "he (retired Gen. Fonseka) is now saying something else. He is belatedly talking of media freedom."

Asked why he remained silent when attacks on the media were carried out, Lt. Col. (retd.) Rajapaksa is quoted as saying, "We did not keep quiet knowing it. We do not say it even up to now. We are saying it now because he (Gen. Fonseka) is talking about media freedom. In my web site (reference is to the website of the Ministry of Defence run by the Defence Secretary) we have not reported these.

"We are saying it because (Gen. retd.) Fonseka is saying it. Particularly at that time, I accepted the accusations made by the media. I kept silent all throughout. I wanted to save the armed forces chiefs. The reason is because we did not think of personal matters since we had a common goal. My silence over the killing of Lasantha Wickramatunge and other issues thus led the blame being placed on me. My aim was to defeat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)."

Lt. Col. (retd.) Rajapaksa's remarks to the Irida Lankadeepa were repeated in other interviews he gave both the print and electronic media thereafter. They were to draw the attention of the Colombo-based diplomatic community, particularly those representing western nations. If the issue was lost on media rights groups both in Sri Lanka and abroad, some of the western nations that release reports on human rights violations were to take note of the Defence Secretary's remarks. That was the fact that he was aware of what was going on but did not act in order to protect armed forces commanders.

For the United States, it appears to have answered questions raised with regard to the media in the State Department annual report on Human Rights. Similarly, for the European Union, though not intended, it provided the answers to the issue of attacks on the media. The EU too had raised the issue in two consecutive reports. These reports were a prelude to the EU Council of Ministers taking a formal decision later this month on whether or not the GSP Plus concessionary tariffs to a basket of Sri Lankan exports should be continued.

If the Government did not respond to the first report, a team of Ministers formulated a response to the second one. To say the least, Lt. Col. (retd.) Rajapaksa's latest assertions were at variance with the official positions taken by the Government. There is little doubt that the EU Council of Ministers will take note of these new developments. An EU diplomat who did not wish to be named told the Sunday Times "it is now certain there will be no extension of the GSP Plus after June next year. Not until the tough conditions the EU will place are paid heed to by the Government."

Here was a situation where Gen. Fonseka is saying he was not involved in any acts of violence against the media. On the other hand, here was the Defence Secretary strongly denying any involvement but significant enough, admitting he was aware they had occurred but yet acknowledging he had chosen to remain silent. That was to "save the armed forces chiefs" and to achieve the "common goal" of defeating the Tiger guerrillas. That silence was whilst the official web site of the Ministry of Defence brazenly named several journalists and branded them as "traitors".

Mangala Samaraweera, MP and one of two spokespersons for Gen. Fonseka's polls campaign charged that the Defence Secretary had withheld information and asked why the CID had not recorded a statement from him. He said he had violated the Penal Code by disclosing in interviews that he was aware of attacks on journalists but remained silent. He was speaking at a UNF news conference on Thursday. Samaraweera said that the Defence Secretary was a senior Government official and therefore could not engage in politics nor give lengthy political interviews to the print and electronic media on behalf of his brother. He claimed this went against the ruling of the Commissioner of Elections that no Government officials engage in political activity.

"We will come with answers to those issues (attacks on the media) at the right time," said a UPFA campaign official. He said some television programmes and booklets to answer the issues raised were now under preparation. "They will be aired and distributed respectively after our polls campaign begins in Anuradhapura on December 18. They cannot get away by placing the blame on Gotabhaya," the official added.

Amidst this controversy, state-run television networks have provided wide coverage to allegations that a member of Gen. Fonseka's family profited by military deals with the Government, a charge that is dismissed by the former Chief of Defence Staff as "baseless and malicious".

Even before the official polls campaign is set to begin after nominations on Thursday, both the UPFA leadership as well as the main Opposition parties have begun to woo the media. Last Tuesday, for the fourth time, President Rajapaksa invited a thousand media workers, journalists, library staff, printing personnel among others, to dinner at 'Temple Trees'. Rajapaksa had only walked to a few tables to smile and say "hello" to his guests when some confusion broke out. Beer was served and some left the tables to help themselves to the brew preventing him from his regular public relations routine,

Those media events have also become the subject of debate. Gen. Fonseka was asked, at his first news conference to announce his candidature, on November 15, his policy towards consumption of liquor. He said he did not object to the consumption but added that he would crack down on drug abuse. Sections of the pro-Rajapaksa Buddhist clergy tried to make an issue of these remarks.

They argued that whilst the UPFA Government spoke of Mathata Thiththa (full stop to alcohol and drugs), Gen. (retd.) Fonseka was talking about consumption of alcohol. Loyalists of the 'common candidate' were quick to point out that alcohol was freely served during Rajapaksa's media events. If it was only beer for the thousand that gathered on Tuesday night, there was premium whisky, brandy and other liquor at the previous event for the media at the Colombo Hilton, they pointed out.

It is now Gen. Fonseka's turn now to wine and dine the media. His campaign staff was busy yesterday making arrangements for a major event tomorrow evening. The Sunday Times has learnt that tomorrow's event at the Taj Samudra will assume greater significance for another reason. Besides the entertainment aspect, the Opposition's 'common candidate' for the Presidency is to spell out his media policy and make commitments to practitioners should he be voted to power.

According to one source, "he will go beyond assurances of media freedom" but declined to elaborate saying matters were still not finalised. "I can only tell you he has some interesting surprises," the source added. Though he will not put forward a manifesto, as reported earlier, a common minimum programme of sorts will incorporate the policies towards media which Gen. Fonseka is expected to announce tomorrow.

(This is an edited version of the Sunday Times political column. To read the full article, click here)

© The Sunday Times

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sri Lanka wants more players in oil race

Sri Lanka plans to offer three more blocks off the island's northwestern shores for oil exploration, the government said on Saturday.

"We need more players in the oil exploration race and the government plans to call for tenders for three more blocks off the Gulf of Mannar early next year," Petroleum Resources Minister A.H.M. Fowzie told AFP.

Cairn India, a unit of Britain's Cairn Energy Plc, began a 100 million-dollar seismic survey off Sri Lanka's northwestern coast earlier in the week to explore for crude oil.

Cairn said it hopes to complete the survey by March and start drilling in the first half of 2011.

Fowzie said previous seismic data had showed the potential for the discovery of more than one billion barrels of oil in the Mannar Basin but there have been no finds yet.

Sri Lanka awarded Cairn one of eight blocks totalling 3,000 square kilometres (1,158 square miles) in 2008. In 2007, India and China were given one block each but neither has begun exploration.

With the island just emerging from the end of a 37-year Tamil separatist war, Fowzie is hopeful of attracting more players.

Sri Lanka produces no oil and spent 3.4 billion dollars on importing crude last year.

In the 1970s, overseas companies explored areas off Sri Lanka's northwest coast but failed to find any oil and gas reserves worth exploiting commercially.


Related Links:
Oil exploration in the Mannar Basin - Sunday Times
Russia invited to explore Sri Lankan prospects - Oil & Gas
One billion barrels of crude in Mannar Basin - Oilwatch South East Asia
Sri Lanka ready to offer more oil exploration blocks - Lanka Business Online
Sri Lanka to call for new oil exploration bids - Energypedia
India's Cairn starts oil hunt in the Mannar Basin -

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sri Lankan war allies, now political enemies

By KRISHAN FRANCIS - Just a few months ago, Sri Lanka's president and its army chief were strong allies, working closely together to defeat the Tamil Tiger rebels and end the nation's 25-year civil war.

Now the two men hailed as national heroes are bitter political opponents, as Gen. Sarath Fonseka works to unseat President Mahinda Rajapaksa in next month's presidential elections.

Rajapaksa's allies brand Fonseka a potential dictator and say he is ungrateful to the man who promoted him to army chief and put him in charge of leading the fight against the rebels.

Fonseka, who resigned from the military last month, accuses Rajapaksa of corruption and nepotism and says the nation is still not at peace, even though the war ended in May.

"Under cover of war victory, if someone is trying to boost up his family image or to stick to nepotism ... then you can't say peace has come," Fonseka told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday.

Fonseka was highlighting the position of Rajapaksa's three brothers: one a Cabinet minister, another the president's top adviser and a third the defense secretary.

Fonseka said if elected he would prune down the extensive powers of the presidency and strengthen parliament under the prime minister.

But many Rajapaksa backers argue Fonseka is actually planning on taking more power, and might even turn the country into a dictatorship.

Fonseka brushed off the accusation.

"If I was keen about a military regime, I would have done it long ago, even before the war was won," he said. "I am a disciplined general who commanded a disciplined army."

The falling out between Rajapaksa and Fonseka is stark. After the war, the president promoted the army chief, giving him a fourth star and naming him commander of all military forces.

But Fonseka complained he was sidelined into a bureaucratic job and under constant accusation of plotting a coup. He resigned last month and announced he would run as the opposition candidate in Jan. 26 elections.

Victor Ivan, a political analyst and editor of Ravaya newspaper, said Fonseka's decision has made the election — which had been considered an easy win for the president — a real contest and was healthy for democracy in the country. But also he warned of a close race sparking street violence.

The government and the military came under harsh criticism for their conduct during the final months of the war, when 300,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were trapped along with Tamil separatists in a shrinking war zone in the north.

According to the U.N., more than 7,000 civilians were killed from January to April, and a U.S. State Department report listed instances when government troops allegedly fired at civilians and hospitals and killed rebels who tried to surrender with white flags. Journalists critical of the military campaign were killed, attacked or forced to flee the country.

Fonseka implied gangs working for government leaders may have been involved in the attacks on journalists and denied war crimes allegations.

"As far as the army is concerned, I don't know there were any war crimes. I monitored every action by the troops," he said. "If we went on ignoring the safety of civilians, out of the 300,000 civilians we saved, half would have gotten killed."

But Fonseka's entry to politics has alarmed the mainly Hindu minority Tamil group, who view him as an ethnic Sinhalese nationalist.

His reported comments last year that he was fighting for a Buddhist, Sinhalese state reinforced that fear. Fonseka says he was misquoted and that he stands for equality and justice for all.

"In my previous job I did justice to them (Tamils). I destroyed terrorism and liberated the affected people," Fonseka said, adding as president he would ensure "equal rights and justice done to all communities in the country."

But he was non-committal on the long-standing Tamil demand for power sharing, saying only a future parliament could decide the issue.

© Associated Press

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