Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Sri Lanka Army used phosphorus bombs": Civilian victims

By K.Sahadevan

Truth cannot be hidden for far too long. As for Sri Lanka, concrete and credible evidence of how the incumbent Rajapaksa government conducted and won the protracted war against the Tamil Tiger rebels keep surfacing.

A witness to atrocities in the final stages of the war against the Tamil Tiger rebels in the island’s north, making a voluntary testimony before a Presidential Commission of Inquiry, has said on September 19, 2010 that the military “used cluster bombs and phosphorus bombs against innocent civilians”, killing 400-600 civilians daily.

“The Army used banned phosphorus and cluster bombs against the LTTE, when the LTTE stage counter-attacks against the military fighter jets carrying out air raids on government-declared No-Fire Zones. This caused mass-scale destruction to the lives of the innocent civilians remained there. The situation went to the extent where approximately 400 – 600 were getting killed and 1,000 getting wounded on a daily basis,” N. Suntharamurthi, an official from the Pooneryn Agriculture Development Authority, shared his experience with the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) at Pooneryn.

If the video clip, accepted by the UN as an authentic one, showing the Sri Lankan soldiers shooting down a number of blind-folded naked Tamil youths at an unknown location in the northern war zone, has already become a credible evidence against the war-crime probe charges, the eye-witness accounts of the war-victims to its own Commission have placed the hawkish Sri Lankan government in an awkward position.

BBC barred

The appointment of yet another Presidential Commission in the annals of the history of Sri Lanka was aimed at neutralising the international pressure calling for an international probe on the alleged war crimes by the government troops during the final stage of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Trying to give some credibility to this commission, the government held a session of hearing of this commission at the Kilinochchi, former political and administrative nerve centre of the LTTE. The motives of the government were exposed when the BBC was denied access to cover this session of hearings.

However, the motives of the Commission have backfired on the government’s face due to the brave but chilling eye-witness accounts of the civilians, who were fortunate or otherwise to have survived to relate the story. Perturbed by these startling revelations, the government immediately got its official military spokesman to deny all allegations outright.

It is now an open secret that senior journalist Prageeth Egnaligoda, who is missing over the past six months, was abducted because he was in possession of credible information with regard to the chemical weapons that the government troops have bought, kept in store and used during the final weeks of the war.

"Zero civilian casualty" myth

The verbal accounts of the people, who have witnessed their family members and next of kin getting killed in hundreds due to the usage of such weapons of mass destruction, have proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the Colombo government was violating the international laws in the war against its own people.

With the credible war crime evidences coming out, the government finds it difficult to defend its position that no such crimes were committed by its troops and not a single civilian was killed in the war by its action.

The government’s fragile position in this issue was very clear when President Mahinda Rajapaksa made a point in his address at the 65 th Session of the UN General Assembly this week that there are “serious problems with the current rules governing the conduct of the war”, implying that they need radical changes.

In what is widely seen as “the most controversial passage of his speech”, President Rajapaksa, who publicly challenged in local forums to face any international probe on war crime charges, said at this apex international forum that it was therefore “worth examining the capacity of international humanitarian law to meet today’s needs”.

Western duplicity

Western diplomats commenting on his speech said the Sri Lanka President, in a way, has accepted he would not be able to escape if the war crime charges are probed impartially and independently at international courts under the existing international laws.

It is as good as anybody’s guessing that the western diplomats who staged a walkout when Iranian President made controversial remarks suggesting that “the US government could have "orchestrated the 9-11 attack to reverse the declining American economy, and its grips on the Middle East, in order to save the Zionist regime”, decided not to protest to President Rajapaksa’s solemn idea of changing the existing international laws just to suit him.

As for the Sri Lankan President, the idea of changing the existing laws to suit his needs is something that he is well used to in his own land. Last week he brought a radical change in the country’s existing constitution to undermine the independence of the key institutions of the country, including police, judiciary and elections commission. The constitutional amendment which was hurriedly passed in the parliament without consulting the electorate, has removed the two-term limit of the president to rule the country.

Commenting further on the civilian hardships, Suntharamurthy has said that with the war getting aggressively spread across from north-western Mannar district to the north-eastern Mullaitivu, displacement of civilians became a commonplace.

“The displacement that began in Mannar stretched to Mullivaikkal. The suffering of civilians during this period of time was immense. Both parties to the war were responsible for this,” he said.

“Because the government established so-called No-Fire Zones and placed civilians in them, the LTTE was able to recruit new cadre at ease and also store weaponry in them. When we were in the safe zones, we had to face life-threatening circumstances. Using civilians as a protective shield, the LTTE attacked the Army using shells and quickly moved out of the area, only to have the army retaliate with shell and air attacks. Nearly 200 people were getting killed daily,” he told the Commission.

“Whenever we tried, the LTTE didn’t allow us to move and attacked us with raw blades. They shot into the air to scare us. At the same time, the Army also shot at civilians who attempted to cross into areas under their control”.

“Because of this, we stayed in the safe zone. Puthumathalan, Suthanthirapuram, Ambalavanpokkanai, Valaippadu and Valignarmadam were some of the areas we stayed in. On one occasion, Army shelling into the safe zone killed 17 women and 6 children on the spot,” he has said, calling on the LLRC to be different to the previous commissions of the country’s history.

Sources say that only fifteen of nearly four hundred persons, most of them women, were allowed to witness before the Commission.

Fate of the surrendered cadres

A woman giving witness before the Commission in Kandaavalai has said in her account that she had seen the LTTE combatants who had surrendered themselves to the government troops being taken away in sixteen buses on the final day of the war.

Meanwhile, the wife of a top Tamil Tiger leader has revealed that several key rebel leaders including her husband were missing, after surrendering to the government troops during the final days of the bloody war in May 2009.

Anandhi Sasitharan, the wife S. Elilan, LTTE’s former political commissar of the Eastern Trincomalee district has made these revelations to the BBC Tamil Service after giving her verbal account before the LLRC.

“I along with my three children and key LTTE leaders including my husband Elilan surrendered to the Sri Lankan government troops on September 18, 2009. They surrendered to the army as a big group led by an English school principal (Catholic priest) Rt Frances at Vedduvahal area in the Mullaitivu district followed by the civilians on that day,” she has said in a telephone interview last week.

“Wives and next of kin of those who surrendered to the military along with my husband have also been desperately searching for their loved ones, but there was no information about any of them to date. Even the Catholic Priest, Rt Frances has not been located to date,” Anandhi Sasitharan said, giving a detailed account of how and when they surrendered to the military.

“Among those surrendered along with Elilan were deputy leader of the LTTE’s political wing Thangan, administrative unit leader Poovannan, Iniviyan, Ilamparuthy, sports unit leader Raja and his three children, former LTTE in-charge of international affairs Lawrence Thilakar, Yogaratnam Yogi, Theepan, Kutty and Babu,” she said, adding that she could not remember the names of others.

“I was with my husband when surrendering took place, but the military officials identifying him as Mavilaru Elilan took him away and sent me, being a government servant, to the Vavuniya refugee camp”.

“There was no news of my husband to date, not even a letter. I met some of the disabled LTTE cadres who had already been released by the government. They too denied any knowledge of my husband,” Anandhi Sasitharan said in the BBC interview.

The Rajapaksa regime is already in trouble with its own army commander charging the top government defence authorities of giving orders to the ground commanders to shoot and kill a large number of key unarmed LTTE leaders, including its political wing head B. Nadesan and its peace secretariat head S. Pulithevan while surrendering with white flags, this is yet another evidence that indicates even the surrendered LTTE ex-combatants are missing while in protective military custody.

Witness protection

Meanwhile, senior Tamil leader and Member of Parliament of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) for the Jaffna district, Mavai Senadhirajah, has urged the government to give witness protection for the Tamil civilians who testified before its Commission.

Raising the witness-protection issue in parliament, MP Senadhirajah said that the official military spokesman has unfairly denied the witness accounts of the people before the commission.

“This has instilled fear among the people who came forward to share their experience before this Presidential Commission of Inquiry,” the Jaffna district MP has said.


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