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British role in anti-LTTE operations insignificant – Sarath Weerasekara

(Courtesy of The Island)

By Shamindra Ferdinando


The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) side-stepped The Island query whether documents that had been destroyed as reported in a section of the British and other media included diplomatic cables originating from the British High Commission in Colombo during eelam war IV.


Asked whether the FCO consulted British HC in Colombo before the destruction/removal of files/documents and among them were diplomatic cables sent from British HC in Colombo during the eelam war IV (Aug 2006-May 2009), a FCO spokesperson said: “We do not accept any files have been wrongly destroyed. These files have been destroyed in compliance with the Public Records Act.


Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.


“The FCO’s recommendations for the preservation or destruction of records take place under the guidance and supervision of The National Archives. FCO decisions are guided by The National Archive’s records collection policy and existing FCO policy.”


The Island received FCO response yesterday (May 28) to query submitted to the British High Commission in Colombo last Thursday (May 24).


However, journalist and researcher Phil Miller, who had revealed the destruction of those files pertaining to early British ‘role’ in Sri Lanka in The Guardian (International Edition) asserted there was almost no record ‘of the British government’s work with the Sri Lankan authorities at the start of a brutal civil war.’


According to online report posted on May 23, 2018, the files that had been destroyed dealt with the situation between 1978 to 1980. The report claimed that MI 15 and Special Air Services (SAS) had secretly advised Sri Lanka in counter-insurgency operations at that time.


Miller quoted Vairamuttu Varadakumar, Executive Secretary of Kingston, London based Tamil Information Centre as having said that “The Tamil community is taking strenuous efforts to collect and preserve records on history and the human rights situation in post-independence Sri Lanka. We are horrified to learn that the UK’s Foreign Office has destroyed vital information on the British government’s training and arming of Sri Lankan security forces, which were involved in widespread human rights violations against the Tamils.”


Reacting to the FCO claim that the information contained in the files was insignificant, Varadakumar said: “It is improper for the UK government to deceive the public, who have the right to know. It appears that the Foreign Office’s action is designed to cover up the involvement of the SAS and MI5 in the training of Sri Lankan security forces that might be potentially embarrassing to her majesty’s government.”


Former Navy Chief of Staff Sarath Weerasekera yesterday said that the wide coverage given to destruction of 1978-1980 files should be examined against the backdrop the FCO declining to divulge Lord Naseby’s request in early Nov. 2014 to release confidential British High Commission dispatches that dealt with the situation during January-May 2009 period.


Lord Naseby was able to secure only a section of the documents he had asked for following UK Information Commissioner’s intervention, Weerasekera, a former UPFA MP told The Island, emphasizing that Sri Lanka didn’t receive any tangible British support after war erupted in July 1983.


Weerasekera, who had represented the Global Sri Lanka Forum (GSLF) at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) at various side-events, where he countered unsubstantiated war crimes allegations said that obviously British advice at the onset of the conflict was inadequate. Had there been genuine British intervention on behalf of Sri Lanka at that time Tamil terrorism could have been crushed during JRJ administration, Weerasekera said. Instead, the British had allowed the LTTE international Secretariat in London which coordinated operations directed against Sri Lanka. In fact, it would be interesting to know whether British security services advised the then political leadership to allow LTTE a free hand, the naval veteran asked.


Responding to a query, Weerasekera alleged that a foolish attempt was being made to show that destruction of those old files would be detrimental to the Tamil community. Weerasekera said that he was really keen to know the basis the UK allowed Britisher of Sri Lankan origin Anton Balasingham, one-time British High Commission employee to function as the theoretician of the LTTE, even after it was proscribed in the UK.


Weerasekera alleged that the FCO declined to release war time British High Commission dispatches claiming that such a course of action would jeopardize their relations with Sri Lanka. A full disclosure would have certainly exposed much touted claim that over 40,000 civilians died during the final phase of the combined security forces offensive, the former Navy Chief of Staff said.


Weerasekera said that those who had been worried about destruction of 1978-1980 files were mum on FCO’s suppressing information vital for the proposed Geneva led investigation.


The outspoken retired officer said that UK had never been a major supplier of arms, ammunition and equipment to Sri Lanka.

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