Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tamil protesters ask for probe into war crimes allegations

AFP | Expatica

Tamils from across Europe demonstrated at the UN's European headquarters on Monday, calling for a probe into alleged war crimes committed by Sri Lanka at the end of the country's 2009 civil war. According to local police, around 1,000 protesters gathered in Geneva's iconic Place des Nations, to urge the Human Rights Council to investigate the killing of tens of thousands of civilians by Sri Lankan forces in the final push of the country's brutal war against separatist Tamils.

"We want an international independent investigation" into the war crimes allegations, Kandiah Rajamanoharan, who had travelled from London to Geneva for the day, told AFP.

He added that the organisers were expecting between 5,000 to 10,000 demonstrators.

"And we are all for the independence of our Tamil homeland," he added.

Last week, UN leader Ban Ki-moon sent a report detailing similar allegations against Sri Lankan troops to the Human Rights Council, saying that he alone cannot order an inquiry into the killings but that a forum such as the UN's rights body could do so.

"We expect the United Nations to take up this issue," Rajamanoharan said.

Another demonstrator, Nivethan Nanthakumar who is still in high school and travelled from northern Switzerland, added that "two years after (the end of the conflict) the international community is doing nothing."

"We Tamils will not give up. We will fight for self determination, for freedom," he said.


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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

SLINEX II: Biggest Indo-Lanka naval exercise underway off Trinco

By Shamindra Ferdinando | The Island

India and Sri Lanka launched their biggest joint naval exercise off the strategic Trincomalee Navy base on Monday (19) with the participation of over a dozen ships, helicopters and one maritime reconnaissance aircraft.

SLN headquarters told The Island that the five-day exercise codenamed ‘SLINEX II’ would enhance relations between the two navies and help them share experience, skills and expertise.

An SLN spokesperson said that it was the second exercise since the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009. Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa will visit Trincomalee to meet officers and men involved in the exercise.

The elite Special Boat Squadron of the SLN, too, will take part in the exercise.

Government sources told The Island that in spite of efforts by interested parties to undermine Indo-Lanka relations through a vicious propaganda campaign directed at the SLN over unsubstantiated allegations of attacks on the Tamil Nadu fishing fleet, the two governments had always striven to improve relations between their navies.

The Indian fleet comprises one Destroyer (INS Ravijay), one Frigate (INS Shivlik), one missile corvette ((INS Khanjar), one Landing Ship Tank (INS Gharial), two Fast Attack Craft (Cheriyam and Koradivh) and one maritime patrol aircraft.

Sri Lanka will deploy two Offshore Patrol Vessels (SLNS Sagara and SLNS Samudura), a Fast Missile Vessel (SLNS Nandimihra), two Fast Gun Boats (Prathapa and Ranajaya) and six Fast Attack Craft.

During External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris’ three-day visit to New Delhi last May, the two countries agreed to enhance cooperation in the energy sector and to promote dialogue on security and defence issues of relevance to bilateral relations.

Government sources said that both countries were keen to strengthen relations between the two militaries, particularly between the two navies to prevent possible incursions by pirates.

© The Island

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

“We deployed DPU teams inside safe zone”: Rajapaksa confided to US envoy in May 2009

Tamil Net

During the final days of the genocidal war in Vanni when the international community was repeatedly urging Colombo to cease attacks on the ‘safe zone’, the SL President and Commander-in-Chief of the SL armed forces Mahinda Rajapaksa admitted to a top US envoy that his military had deployed Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) missions, also known as Deep Penetration Units (DPU) inside the so-called safe-zone to “organize people to breach the LTTE earth bunds.” Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa has ‘confidentially’ shared this military secret to Charge d'Affaires of the US embassy James R. Moore, while holding a meeting with Co-Chair Ambassadors in Colombo, barely two week before Colombo massacred thousands of civilians and claimed military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The DPU deployment of SL forces within the safe-zone has been revealed in the Wikileaks documents brought out by the Norwegian paper Aftenposten earlier this year.

“The President then claimed that Government forces would not shell civilian areas, confiding that the Army has Deep Penetration Units (Tamil-speaking agents operating in LTTE-controlled areas) within the safe zone who are attempting to organize people to breach the LTTE earth bunds and allow civilians to escape,” Charge d'Affaires of the US embassy James R. Moore has been quoted as saying in his note to the Secretary of State, with a copy to the White House on 05 May 2009.

SL President Rajapaksa shared this sensitive military secret with the US envoy while his government and its external abettors were engaged in a full-scale propaganda war charging that it was the Tamil Tigers who were carrying out attacks against civilians inside the “safe zone” as their last bid to prevent them from fleeing the war zone in the island’s north.

Sri Lanka’s Defence Ministry went one step further and released a video footage, alleged to have been recorded by the Un-Manned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), in which two men were seen rounding up and shooting at a group of civilians at a coastal area.

“This could well be the work of the DPU desperately aimed at neutralising the mounting international pressure with the President claiming that they too were deployed to carry out attacks,” said a Tamil doctor who served at the makeshift hospital in Mu'l'livaaykkaal in the final days.

The specially raised military’s elite Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) missions, also known as Deep Penetration Units, functioning directly under the Commands of Directorate of Military Intelligence and Special Forces, were believed to have been trained by the special forces of the US and Israel on how to carry out stealth operations inside the enemy territories.

The DPU was known for targeted assassinations of key LTTE members, Tamil National Alliance parliamentarians, humanitarian workers and human rights activists inside the LTTE administered Vanni.

The Sri Lankan forces, especially under the coordination by SL presidential sibling Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and SL Intelligence Chief Major General Kapila Hendawitharana, deployed Deep Penetration Units and paramilitary groups in destabilizing the Ceasefire Agreement between the LTTE and the GoSL, facilitated and monitored by the Norwegian government.

The DPU pin-pointed civilian targets, such as the SLAF massacre that killed 51 school girls and four staff on civil training at Chengchoalai premises. The DPU has been responsible for a number of claymore attacks that claimed the lives of patients and medical personnel travelling in ambulances, priests involved in humanitarian and human rights and Tamil National Alliance parliamentarians.

If Sri Lankan President himself has said that such lethal military units were carrying out operations inside the SL government-designated safe-zone, the importance of such operations and the magnitude of the disasters they could have caused to the war-hit civilians cannot be underestimated.

“Truth may be the first casualty of any war, but it never dies and will somehow surface one day,” commented a Colombo based Tamil lawyer on the revelation of LRRP presence inside the “safe zone”.

“With the Cat is now out of the bag, these accusations and counter-accusations have to be investigated and verified independently, but it is incumbent on the part of the powerful international community, including the UN to create an environment where the living witnesses of the systematic genocide could be testified independently without fear of reprisals,” said the lawyer based in Colombo.  

© Tamilnet

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sri Lanka's dirty secret

By Stewart Bell | National Post

During the last gasps of Sri Lanka's long civil war, Lieutenant-General Jagath Dais held a briefing for journalists at a compound in Kilinochchi, a Tamil Tiger rebel stronghold that had fallen to government forces.

Using a slide projector, the Sri Lanka Army commander gave a detailed accounting of the number of rebels and troops killed and injured in the fighting. But when asked how many civilians had died, he soured.

"No civilian casualties," he said. "Zero."

Two years later, that claim is less credible than ever. While Sri Lanka continues to defend its wartime conduct, a mounting stack of independent reports have concluded that at least 10,000 died, many due to government shelling.

"It would be a mistake for Sri Lankans to gloss over the fact of these deaths; those who hope for a genuine peace and for the preservation of their democracy must eventually look full in the face at a violent past," Gordon Weiss wrote in The Cage: The Fight for Sri Lanka and the Last Days of the Tamil Tigers.

As the United Nations spokesman in Colombo at the time, Mr. Weiss had a unique perch from which to observe the calamitous end of the war, and he has documented his account in a critically acclaimed nonfiction book.

The book's version of what happened is hardly far-fetched. Mr. Weiss argues that a lot of civilians needlessly lost their lives during the final months of fighting and that the government bears its share of responsibility.

For this, the 45-year-old Australian, who was in Toronto this week for a panel discussion hosted by Sri Lankans Without Borders, has been defamed as a rebel apologist by the government and its supporters.

But he is hardly a voice in the wilderness. Investigations by the International Crisis Group, a panel of experts appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Amnesty International, among others, have come to the same stark conclusion.

Witnesses to the bloodshed have been coming forward. Videos apparently showing troops executing captives have been broadcast by Britain's Channel 4. The UN Human Rights Council was asked this week to investigate allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper took a stand last week when he said he supported an independent investigation. He also said he would not attend an upcoming Commonwealth meeting in Sri Lanka unless the country's human rights record improved.

"I think there is momentum building," Mr. Weiss said in an interview. "There have been some fairly momentous reports come out . a series of things that tended to argue that the position that was consistently held by the government of Sri Lanka - that nothing much happened at the end of the war - was an absurd one."

A former journalist and humanitarian worker, Mr. Weiss had spent more than a decade in world hotspots, from Angola and Sudan to Bosnia and Kosovo, when he landed in Colombo in 2006 to help the UN get its message out.

"You have the first experience with Sri Lankans, it's a very friendly one, they're very smiley, and the resorts. There's a whole life that operates at that level," he said. "But dig a little deeper and learn a little bit about Sri Lanka and you realize it's a place that's got multiple tensions running at cross purposes to each other, and all taking place on this hothouse island."

Days after he arrived, he got his first look at those tensions when a suicide bomber tried to assassinate the country's defence secretary. A ceasefire between the government and separatist Tamil Tiger rebels soon collapsed, and a "final war" began.

Both sides thought they would emerge victorious but the Sri Lankan army soon pushed the outgunned rebels, who had initially controlled a third of the country, into an evershrinking enclave.

Trapped in the fighting areas with them were some 300,000 civilians in a no-win situation. The rebels used them as human shields, shooting at those who tried to leave. And the military's use of artillery fire and air strikes caused heavy civilian casualties.

By May 2009, the government forces had corralled the rebels on an isolated beach where the civilians had also fled. The army then moved in for the kill. Among the dead were the rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his top commanders.

Few mourned the rebel defeat. The Tigers were suicide bombers and assassins who armed children and sent them to frontlines. They also used Toronto, with its large Tamil-Canadian population, as a base for supporting the cause through extortive fundraising and weapons procurement.

But questions about the government's methods have dogged Sri Lanka ever since. Outside agencies that examined the war said Sri Lankan forces had intentionally shelled civilians, hospitals and humanitarian operations, while silencing critics of the operation with abductions and disappearances.

Mr. Weiss said he does not know how many civilians died in the final offensive but that a "reasonable guess" is that 10,000 to 40,000 remain unaccounted for. Amnesty says at least 10,000 died, while the ICG said tens of thousands were killed.

"By denying that its military operations resulted in tens of thousands of civilian deaths, and intimidating and threatening those who challenge that view, the government is effectively closing off the opportunity to open a serious national dialogue on the recent past and needs of the future," the UN panel wrote.

The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has so far dismissed calls for an independent inquiry. Instead it launched the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which rights groups say is too flawed to be taken seriously.

"There is a propaganda war going on against Sri Lanka," said Karunarathna Paranawithana, the Sri Lankan Consul-General in Toronto, "so some individuals who work in some international agencies also have joined that." He said Mr. Weiss's book was factually wrong and that the author was not an "authentic observer with regard to the Sri Lankan conflict."

In addition to its fact-finding commission, Sri Lanka has embarked on a program of economic development, as well as resettlement of those displaced by the war and rehabilitation of ex-combatants, many of whom were women and children.

"I think it is going in a positive direction," Mr. Weiss said. "Merely by virtue of the fact that peace has returned, that's brought huge benefits But it doesn't mean at the same time that there aren't important outstanding issues that need to be dealt with."

Perhaps most glaring is that, more than two years after the war ended, the government has not yet proposed any meaningful reforms to address the grievances of minority Tamils that exploded into a quarter century of war.

"In one sense you could say that the initial grievances that gave rise to the insurgency in the first place are still there, they haven't gone away," he said. "They've not been dealt with and simply saying to people, 'Well, we're all one Sri Lanka now' is not a solution."


"We are concerned about the situation. That country needs to make progress, not just in terms of what they did against, yeah, the Tigers, but they do have to make advances in terms of political reconciliation, democratic values and accountability. We support the calls of the United Nations Secretary General's representative for an independent investigation ... " - Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Sept. 9, 2011.

" . Amnesty International's conclusions, derived independently from eyewitness testimony and information from aid workers, are that at least 10,000 civilians were killed; that the LTTE [Tamil Tigers] used civilians as human shields and conscripted child soldiers; that the Sri Lankan army shelled areas it knew were densely populated by civilians; and that people trapped by fighting suffered severe and avoidable deprivation of food, water and medical care. These actions constitute serious violations of international law."

- When Will They Get Justice, Amnesty International, Sept. 7, 2011.

"The government of Sri Lanka made every effort to protect civilians in the conflict zone . Despite the clear intent of the government of Sri Lanka and the numerous precautions taken, it was impossible in a battle of this magnitude, against a ruthless opponent actively endangering civilians, for civilian casualties to be avoided."

- Humanitarian Operation Factual Analysis July 2006-May 2009, Ministry of Defence, Sri Lanka, July, 2011.

". I believe that the tactical choices the SLA [Sri Lanka Army] was directed to make, and which contributed to the deaths of so many civilians, warrant a credible judicial investigation of the kind that the Sri Lankan state, in its current guise, is no longer capable of mounting."

- Gordon Weiss, The Cage, May 2011.

"The government says it pursued a 'humanitarian rescue operation' with a policy of zero civilian casualties.

In stark contrast, the panel found credible allegations, which if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law was committed both by the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Indeed, the conduct of the war represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity during both war and peace."

- Report of the Secretary-General's Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, March 31, 2011.

"The Sri Lankan security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) repeatedly violated international humanitarian law during the last five months of their 30-year civil war.... An international inquiry into alleged crimes is essential ..."

- War Crimes in Sri Lanka, International Crisis Group, May 2010.

© National Post

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Paradise lost in a secret war

By Antony Loewenstein | The Sydney Morning Herald

The United Nations recently released a report into war crimes committed in Sri Lanka in the final stages of that country's brutal civil war between the Tamil Tigers and the Colombo regime that ended in May 2009. The results were devastating and detailed tens of thousands of Tamil civilians targeted by a rampaging government army and human shields held by Tiger rebels.

It was one of the worst massacres of the 21st century but remained largely a secret war, with journalists, human-rights workers and independent observers refused entry to the conflict zone.

The UN Human Rights Council issued only one resolution on Sri Lanka but a dozen against Israel's war in Gaza a few months before.

The decline of American power and rise of an assertive China allowed Colombo far greater leeway to prosecute its own ''war on terror''. This is a victory that is today celebrated and taught by the island's leaders to other countries looking to liquidate an enemy within; brutality and illegal methods are not impediments to the lessons.

A former UN spokesman in Colombo, Gordon Weiss, told ABC TV's Lateline in April that the UN was undeniably partly responsible for not speaking out more forcefully against the violence during the conflict. He left the position ''because I felt that the government had successfully captured the narrative of what happened in this war and that what was missing was an alternative narrative; and I set about writing this book''.

The resultant work is a compelling examination of the island's tortuous history and deeply ingrained racial discrimination. Weiss writes as an involved insider but holds no brief for either side of the decades-long war. He writes with passion and a depth of knowledge that does not shy away from describing the ''government death squads and 'disappearances' [that] had become a feature of public life''.

He sympathetically explains why a separate Tamil homeland was an almost necessary feature of life for a minority who were routinely discriminated against, could not use their own language in professional life and suffered the indignities of a Colombo-led occupation of their land. Although Weiss is not overcritical in the book of his former employer, he encourages a deeper understanding of humanitarian assistance in the modern age.

He likens the UN to a ''fractious parent/teacher meeting'' and a body ''hamstrung by the interests of some of its most powerful members''. He quotes others to condemn the UN - head of the International Crisis Group Louise Arbour said in 2010 that the UN's soft response ''verged on complicity'' and the UN itself has subsequently acknowledged a muted position due to threats from the Sri Lankan authorities.

WikiLeaks cables confirm the US government was aware of the intensity of the fighting in the final months of the war but there was no push by the UN Security Council to warn Sri Lanka. It was a classic case of realpolitik; Sri Lanka holds only strategic importance and no major natural resources. NATO would not target Libya if lettuce was the country's major export.

Weiss's conclusion is a grim prognosis for Sri Lanka, a nation increasingly divided along ethnic lines. He sees the country ''sliding into tyranny''. Many Western nations, including Australia, have remained shamefully silent in the face of ongoing gross abuses, all in the name of favourable trade deals and withholding refugees before they can come to our shores.

The Cage is a courageous document that holds to account the brutality of a rogue state that is all too often simply seen as a beautiful tourist destination.

© The Sydney Morning Herald

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