Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"SRI LANKAN WAR CRIME VIDEO IS AUTHENTIC" - The Times investigation finds




Rhys Blakely - Video footage that appears to show Sri Lankan troops committing war crimes by summarily executing captured Tamil Tiger fighters on the battlefield was not fabricated, as claimed by the Sri Lankan Government, an investigation by The Times has found.

The findings come after General Sarath Fonseka, the former head of the army, alleged that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the Defence Minister, had ordered that surrendering Tiger leaders be killed rather than taken prisoner in the final days of the brutal 26-year civil war that ended in May.

The claims, vehemently denied by the Government, added to a lengthy list of war crimes allegations against it.

The video of the alleged battlefield executions, which was aired on Channel 4 in August, shows a naked man, bound and blindfolded, being made to kneel.

Another man, dressed in what appears to be Sri Lankan army uniform, approaches from behind and shoots him in the head at point-blank range. “It’s like he jumped,” the executor laughs. The camera then pans to show eight similarly bound corpses.

It is impossible to confirm when and where the filming occurred or the identities of the men shown. Pro-Tamil groups alleged that the video was filmed by troops on a mobile phone in January, when they overran the Tiger stronghold of Kilinochchi in the north of the country. Those claims were denied by government officials, who said they had “established beyond doubt” that the footage was fake.

An analysis for The Times by Grant Fredericks, an independent forensic video specialist who is also an instructor at the FBI National Academy, suggests otherwise. He found no evidence of digital manipulation, editing or any other special effects. However, subtle details consistent with a real shooting, such as a discharge of gas from the barrel of the weapon used, were visible.

“This level of subtle detail cannot be virtually reproduced. This is clearly an original recording,” said Mr Fredericks, who was previously the head of the Vancouver police forensic video unit in Canada.

There was also strong evidence to rule out the use of actors. “Even if the weapons fired blanks, the barrel is so close to the head of the ‘actors’ that the gas discharge alone leaves the weapon with such force it would likely cause serious injury or death,” Mr Fredericks said.

The reactions of those executed was consistent with reality, he added. “The victims do not lunge forward . . . [they] fall backward in a very realistic reaction, unlike what is normally depicted in the movies.”

In Mr Fredericks’s opinion “the injury to the head of the second victim and the oozing liquid from that injury cannot be reproduced realistically without editing cuts, camera angle changes and special effects. No [errors] exist anywhere in any of the images that support a technical fabrication of the events depicted,” he said.

The Sri Lankan Government said in a statement in September that the footage was “done with a sophisticated video camera, dubbed to give the gunshot effect and transferred to a mobile phone.”

Mr Fredericks’s research showed that code embedded in the footage appeared to match with software used in Nokia mobile phones.” He said: “The recording is completely consistent with a cell phone video recording and there are no signs of editing or alterations.”

The strong evidence that the footage does show real executions could reinforce international calls for an independent war crimes investigation — something that the Sri Lanka Government has resisted. A Sri Lankan army spokesman requested that a copy of Mr Fredericks’s report be sent to him yesterday, but did not reply when it was.

Mr Fonseka, who resigned from the army last month after being sidelined, is campaigning to unseat President Rajapaksa, the Defence Minister’s brother, at elections next month.

© Times Online

To read the 'Times Online' article click here.
To read the profile of the Forensic Video Analyst Grant Fredricks Click Here

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sri Lankan diplomat denies abuses against Tamils

video

By Tom Evans - A top Sri Lankan diplomat Monday strongly rejected charges his government is abusing human rights of members of the country's minority Tamil community in refugee camps after the country's quarter-century-long civil war.

In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Palitha Kohona, the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United Nations, insisted his government treated hundreds of thousands of refugees humanely after the war ended in May.

Human rights groups and Western governments, though, strongly criticized conditions in the camps, saying the conditions amounted to an illegal form of collective punishment.

"It's only six months after the war ended. In May, we had over 300,000 people pouring into camps, which were run by the government in order to feed the people, provide them with shelter, and to provide them with health care," Kohona said. "Now almost 60 percent or maybe even 70 percent have returned to their own homes. At the end of last week, there were only about 114,000 still remaining in the camps."

The 26-year-long civil war, one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies, ended with a crushing military victory by the government.

The war cost at least 70,000 lives.

Kohona refuted charges the Sri Lankan military shot and killed many Tamil Tiger rebels who tried to surrender.

"This is an allegation which popped up very recently, not at the time. And the government has categorically said that this scenario never happened," he said. "When you're caught up in a firefight and you are the one engaged in the firefight, it's quite likely that you get shot."

His remarks follow allegations from former army chief Gen. Sarath Fonseka that the government issued orders "not to accommodate" any Tamil Tiger leaders when the war ended. Government officials quickly denied the allegations, saying those claims were an effort by Fonseka to win political advantage in the upcoming presidential election. Fonseka is challenging President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the poll, scheduled for January 26.

Kohona insisted the government is doing everything possible to reconcile with the Tamil community.

"The Tamil language is an equal official language of the country, Tamil is now being taught extensively in our schools," he said. "Thirty-nine percent of Colombo (Sri Lanka's capital) is now Tamil. Fifty-four percent of the Tamils live amongst the (majority) Sinhalese in the south."

But a Tamil pushing for reconciliation in Sri Lanka -- Ahilan Kadirgamar, who is a spokesman for the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum -- told Amanpour the process should have started much sooner.

"The political climate has to change in the country. The north has remained very much militarized and we can't move on reconciliation unless there is a credible political process, unless there is further resettlement of the people in their own homes," Kadirgamar said.

"The political concerns, the economic concerns, all of them have to come together if that community is to feel they're part of Sri Lanka and that they feel that they are being treated as equal citizens in the country."

Kadirgamar said the most important first step for reconciliation is that all the war victims must be given the opportunity to speak, to explain what they went through, and to say where they want to go next.

The United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, John Holmes, told Amanpour there's got to be a political process that gives the Tamil community in Sri Lanka the feeling that Tamils are accepted as part of the society.

Speaking of the upcoming elections, Holmes said, "I hope the Tamil community and the other minority communities will be able to participate fully."

"But then, once those elections are over, we need to go back to addressing these questions of reconciliation, political progress, and economic progress, because the people going back have got to rebuild their lives somehow," he added.

"They're mostly farmers and fishermen, and they will need help and investment to do that."

© CNN

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sri Lanka - war heroes and war crimes



By Andrew Buncombe - Earlier this year, I wrote a story from Sri Lanka about the efforts of several senior LTTE members to surrender in the very final stages of the war and how they were shot dead - apparently while walking towards government troops and carrying a white flag. My sources were pretty good - I had spoken with the Norwegian foreign ministry which confirmed that a senior minister had acted as an intermediary as the men tried to give themselves up. I also spoke with the Sri Lankan foreign secretary, Palitha Kahona, who confirmed that he had personally been in contact with the two LTTE members - whom he had met at ceasefire talks - and advised them how to surrender.

Of course, the quality of the sources did not stop the usual flurry of comments and insults that get hurled at journalists every time they write anything about Sri Lanka, from both the Tamil and Sinhala camps. You kind of get used to it.

But it did make me smile to read over the weekend, an interview in which former army chief Sarath Fonseka, now contesting President Mahinda Rajapaksa in next month's election, has claimed that Mr Rajapaksa's brother, who serves as the defence minister, had given the order to kill all the LTTE leadership. Mr Fonseka claimed that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, ordered that "they must all be killed" and that he rejected attempts to surrender. Mr Fonseka conveniently says that he was not involved in the decision and had been out of the country at the time.

The Sri Lankan government has hit back angrily, turning on the man who was once an ally and even threatening to bring charges against him. One thing's for sure: this coming electoral show-down between the two men who were once friends and allies is going to be very bitter and very ugly. The other certainty is that once the election is over, all this talk of Tamil rebels being shot as they sought to surrender will be conveniently forgotten. Whoever wins.

© The Independent

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sri Lanka candidate denies Tiger rebels shot



By Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal - General Sarath Fonseka, who is challenging President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a January election, denied on Monday having said government soldiers shot surrendering Tamil Tiger rebels, adding no such incidents happened.

The Sri Lankan government had earlier denounced reported comments by the general, carried in an opposition newspaper, that senior rebels who were to surrender with white flags on May 17 were ordered to be killed by the government.

Fonseka at a special media briefing on Monday said the pro-opposition Sunday Leader had reported remarks of his out of context. He said senior rebels had not sought surrender with white flags nor had the military fired at surrendering cadres.

"They (army soldiers) never committed any criminal act. There was no any attempt of surrender on May 17,18 and 19," Fonseka told reporters, referring to the last three days of the war with the Tiger rebels.

The government had said it was seeking legal advice over the allegations in the article in the pro-opposition paper.

"The government totally denies this allegation," Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinge told reporters.

Fonseka's successor, Lieutenant-General Jagath Jayasuriya, said: "We reject (these) malicious allegations against our heroic soldiers."

Fonseka said on Monday he would take full responsibility if any rights violations or breach of international law had occurred when he commanded the army in the final stages of the quarter century war.

The government declared victory in the war after killing rebel chief Velupillai Prabhakaran in late May.

Fonseka and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the president's brother, led the government campaign that brought an end to the insurgency, which aimed to create a separate homeland for the island's Tamil minority.

Both sides were accused of human rights violations and atrocities during the long conflict.

Rights groups and Western governments are pressing for some kind of accountability for thousands of civilian deaths in the final phase of the war.

The government has denied charges of deliberately targeting civilians, and said Tiger fighters forcibly kept thousands of unwilling civilians with them in their last redoubts.

© Reuters

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lanka’s war victory betrayed: Army Chief



Army Commander Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya said that the greatest betrayal of Sri Lanka’s war victory was witnessed by the country on Sunday and urged all officers and other ranks to take note of this development.

“We must stand together as one to face such betrayals aimed at tarnishing the image of the Army,” he said.

Addressing the gathering at a ceremony held at Army Headquarters yesterday to hand over letters of appreciation to officers and other ranks for their contribution to the great victory, he said that the Army went forward and achieved victory after defeating all enemy challenges, adding it was not the victory of one individual but a team effort for which blood, sweat and tears were shed. Victory was achieved through self-confidence, discipline and togetherness and an understanding of each other coupled with good management, the Army Chief said.

“Though I really wanted to give this parchment of appreciation to each and everyone of you in view of the invaluable and great service you have rendered, it was not practically possible to gather all of you to one place, and hence, this is given today as a token but each of you will receive it individually from your Security Forces Headquarters, Divisions, Task Forces, Brigades and Units. Even so, treat it as an honour I have personally bestowed on you as a symbol of appreciation,” he said.

“I believe that all members of the Sri Lanka Army deserve the honour of achieving victory after the completion of this great task. Not only the troops at the battle front but the other troops engaged in providing logistics and support during humanitarian operations contributed to the final success, which I myself as Wanni Security Forces Commander witnessed,” he added.

“I was able to lead our troops from the beginning of the Wanni humanitarian operations to its end. The opportunity I got of having been with you even at the decisive moments while looking after the requirements of Divisions, Task Forces, Brigades and Units remains a memorable part of my life.

“As you all know, the most important tasks in these humanitarian operations were executed from the Wanni Security Forces Headquarters. Realizing this, the terrorists tried to retard the operations by attacking the Wanni Security Forces Headquarters but failed.

“We all are the real heirs to the victory achieved during the humanitarian operations by destroying the so-called Eelam. It is essential to refer specially to the political leadership given for this success. This war dragged on for thirty years because we did not get the correct political leadership though we had a well-trained Army with high morale. But President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had the correct vision and leadership that enabled us to finish off terrorism in a short span of time.

“Earlier when Generals Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Wijeya Wimalarathne conducted the Vadamarachchi Operation, the terrorists were very weak like on this occasion, but due to wavering political leadership that victorious operation was halted. Even talented Army officers were given transfers due to pressure from foreign envoys.

“Army officers and soldiers were killed due to the signing of so-called peace agreements. Sinister forces had done everything possible to stop this humanitarian operation but due to the correct political leadership the country came under one flag,” the Army Commander said.

He emphasized the importance of the Constitution which bestowed legal power with the Commander-in-Chief - the President - to declare war or peace. With the political leadership, the people’s power and the strength of the Army, the entire effort ended in victory, he said.

“Without the correct political leadership we cannot eradicate terrorism. Even at the Army’s 60th anniversary parade, I said that the name of President Mahinda Rajapaksa will be etched in letters of gold in history,” he said.

“I am proud to command a heroic Army consisting of war heroes who eradicated terrorism by destroying the most dreaded terrorist in the world – Prabhakaran - and his fellow terrorists. Foreign powers can learn from Sri Lanka how to defeat a terrorist organization.

“Though there were felicitations on different occasions I personally believe that the entire Army should be felicitated. That is why I felicitate and heartily honour the entire Army in this way. At this moment I remember with great honour and gratitude the brave war heroes who sacrificed their lives, became disabled and those who are still receiving treatment in hospitals. We should never forget them. Their names will be written in gold. I must mention the different projects that have already been launched for the welfare of those war heroes and their families by the Seva Vanitha branch of the Army,” Lieutenant General Jayasuriya said.

“My only determination is to make the Sri Lanka Army the best Army in the world by rigid training and by seeing to their welfare,” he said.

“The war has ended. The responsibility of the Army towards the motherland has not ended. Our responsibility is to protect the freedom achieved, resettle the people who were rescued in the humanitarian operations and help the Government in its development efforts,” he said.

The Army Commander also thanked the Navy, Air Force, Sri Lanka Police and Civil Defence Force, for the support received from them towards achieving the great victory.

“We all must strive to continue the good name achieved by our Army as the best and most disciplined one in the world and I urge all of you to have the necessary courage and energy to perform your responsibilities without any hindrance,” he said.

© Daily Mirror

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