Sri Lanka betrayed
Naseby documents end up in dustbin
President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, pathetically shirked his responsibility at the recently-concluded United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) sessions. President Sirisena skipped Sri Lanka’s last opportunity to defend the country in the run up to the crucial March 2019 sessions. The UNP-SLFP coalition, in March 2017, received two additional years to fulfill its obligations in terms of Oct 2015 Geneva Resolution 30/1.
President Sirisena certainly owed an explanation as to why he refrained from at least mentioning the need to revisit Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka in Oct 2015.
Having announced that he would take up the Geneva Resolution at the UNGA, at a meeting he had with editors and senior representatives of national print and electronic media on Sept. 14, 2018 at the President’s House, President Sirisena ended up pleading with Western powers to appreciate his government’s achievements.
At the President’s House meeting, President Sirisena, flanked by Defence Secretary Kapila Waidyaratne and Deputy Finance and Mass Media Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna, assured that the Sri Lanka issue would be separately discussed with UN Secretary General António Guterres and UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet. President Sirisena didn’t keep his promise.
In New York, instead of speaking on behalf of his country, President Sirisena compared the difference between the Rajapaksa administration and his.
President Sirisena requested that Sri Lanka be allowed to address accountability issues on its own. Sri Lanka, obviously succumbed to Western pressure to take responsibility for crimes its forces did not commit on the Vanni east front.
President Sirisena reiterated his commitment to the Geneva Resolution, adopted four years ago, on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. By reiterating allegiance to the Geneva project, the Head of State merely avoided a major dispute with the UNP-led government.
Close on the heels of President Sirisena’s Sept 14, 2018 assurance to the media, Jaffna District Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran warned that the grouping would request the international community to reject the President’s move. Sumanthiran told the writer that President Sirisena couldn’t change course after having interfered in high profile investigations, such as the wartime disappearance of youth, blamed on the Navy.
Sri Lanka’s treacherous failure to request for re-examination of the Geneva Resolution on the basis of wartime British High Commission dispatches, revealed in Oct 2017, must have shocked Lord Naseby who obtained vital once classified information from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office under the UK Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).
Sri Lanka’s continuous refusal to counter allegations, directed at her armed forces and the wartime political leadership, should be examined against the backdrop of President Sirisena’s decision to record the country’s war history. Success of the project, handed over to Higher Education and Cultural Affairs Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, will entirely depend on those involved in the project being given a free hand. President Sirisena’s decision not to challenge Geneva Resolution revealed the crisis Sri Lanka is facing today due to the current political leadership lacking the courage to defend the country. Obviously, Geneva project meant to pave the way for a new Constitution is still on track thanks to the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government unquestionably accepting war crimes charges in Oct 2015. Much to the disappointment of those who really appreciated the armed forces saving the country from terrorism, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo refrained from acting on genuine evidence unearthed by Lord Naseby.
JRJ to Maithripala Sirisena
The proposed dossier on Sri Lanka’s war history should deal with two JVP inspired insurgencies (1971 and 1987-1990) in addition to the North-East war (1970s-2009).
(1) The war history will have to be recorded taking into consideration the political background. Minister Rajapakse’s team will have to examine developments during JRJ (1977-1989), Ranasinghe Premadasa (1989-1993), Dingiri Banda Wijetunga (1993-1994), Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (1994-2005), Mahinda Rajapaksa (2005-2014) and Maithripala Sirisena.
It would be pertinent to examine Maithripala Sirisena’s role during the war as he is now on record as having said in New York (not at the UNGA) that during the last two weeks of the ground battle the armed forces were under him. President Sirisena claimed that he was in control as his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa, then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Army Chief Gen. Sarath Fonseka were out of the country. Field Marshal Fonseka publicly challenged President Sirisena’s claim.
(2) Indian intervention in the 80s leading to New Delhi recruiting, training, arming and deploying thousands of Tamil youth against the Sri Lanka armed forces. They fought for several groups, including the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). All groups, except the LTTE, accepted the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987 that paved the way for the deployment of the Indian Army (July 1987-March 1990). Before India quit Sri Lanka, the Indian Army formed Tamil National Army (TNA) to prop up the then puppet North-East administration. It would be important to keep in mind that by July/Aug 1987, all Tamil terrorist groups, except the LTTE, accepted Indian military leadership.
(3) Examination of counter insurgency/military operations conducted during JRJ administration with the focus on the largest ever combined services offensive, ‘Operation Liberation’, carried out in the Jaffna peninsula in early 1987, India violated Sri Lankan airspace and forced JRJ to halt the offensive. In other words, India threatened to militarily intervene to save its monstrous creation – the LTTE. Had the then Indian leader Rajiv Gandhi allowed Sri Lanka to finish off the LTTE, he would have probably still been alive. Eelam War I (1983-1987) took place during JRJ presidency.
A few days before the signing of the accord, two Indian Air Force helicopters flew in to the Jaffna peninsula. They were on a top secret mission to airlift five LTTE terrorists, including its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, for a clandestine meet with Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Years later, retired Indian Air Marshal Denzil Keelor revealed how he received instructions from Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) to airlift the LTTE delegation from the Jaffna peninsula to India. Keelor discussed how Indian Air Force had sent in two choppers with specific instructions provided by the RAW to pick up the LTTE delegation from the Suthumalai Amman kovil temple, Jaffna. Having flown the LTTE delegation across the Palk Strait to Trichy and then transferred to a special flight standing by, the group was flown to New Delhi via Madras to meet Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi, on July 28, 1987.
By then, India had already violated Sri Lankan air space on June 4, 1987 to air drop food.
Prabhakaran was flown back to Jaffna on Aug. 2, 1987 amidst a round-the-clock troop airlift from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka. Prabhakaran hadn’t been in Sri Lanka at the time India forced JRJ to sign the Indo-Lanka accord.
Prabhakaran declared, on Aug 4, 1987, that India forced his organization to accept the Indo-Lanka accord. The bottom line is that the UN turned a blind eye to India destabilizing its tiny neighbour.
(4) Examination of Indian military trained PLOTE (People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam) raid on the Maldives in early Nov 1988, too, is necessary as the Sri Lanka Navy lacked the wherewithal to prevent unauthorized/ illegal movements to and from Sri Lanka. Two trawler full of PLOTE cadres, numbering nearly 90, left Sri Lanka under the very nose of Sri Lanka Navy to make an attempt on the then Maldivian President Gayoom’s life. India shamelessly took credit for saving the Maldivian leader. The world conveniently forgot the sea borne raid was mounted by Indian trained Sri Lankan terrorists.
(5) Having tricked President Premadasa during the LTTE-UNP honeymoon to get rid of the Indian Army, the LTTE launched Eelam War II in June 1990 – less than 100 days after the Indian pullout. Premadasa lacked strategy to meet the LTTE challenge. Within days, the Army lost control of Jaffna Kandy A9 road northwards of Vavuniya, Jaffna bases got isolated and the military high command was compelled to position troops close to the coast to ensure supplies by sea. Premadasa never managed to take back territory lost to the LTTE. Premadasa also suffered a debilitating setback in Aug 1992 when battle – tested and extremely popular war veterans Maj. Gen Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Brig. Wijaya Wimalaratne were killed in a landmine blast at Araly point, Kayts. During Premadasa’s time, the military developed capability to mount large scale amphibious operations (Operations Sea Breeze, Balavegaya). Amphibious operations saved Mullaitivu and Elephant Pass bases though the LTTE overran both during President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kunmaratunga’s presidency. In the wake of President Premadasa’s assassination on May Day, 1993, the LTTE inflicted another massive blow on the military. President Wijetunga was in control. The LTTE caused heavy losses on the military in early Nov 1993 when the Pooneryn-Nagathevanthurai complex was partly overrun. The military presence there was to intercept LTTE and civilian movements across the Jaffna lagoon. The loss of Nagathevanthurai brought that operation to an end. The Pooneryn-Nagathevanthurai debacle took place close on the heels of the disastrous Operation Yaldevi conducted in the Jaffna peninsula to destroy Kilali boat point.
In fact, the then Navy Chief Clancy Fernando was believed to have been especially targeted because he was responsible for the Nagathevanthurai operation. Clancy Fernando was assassinated outside the Taj Samudra hotel in Nov 1992. Fernando was the only service commander to perish during the over three decades long conflict.
The then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Cecil Waidyaratne resigned over the Pooneryn-Nagathevanthurai defeat. Waidyaratne was the only service commander to quit over battlefield failure during the war. A genuine war history cannot avoid Premadasa arming and funding the LTTE between May 1989 and March 1990. The transformation and development of Sri Lankan military should be examined vis-a-vis the LTTE capabilities and experience Prabhakaran’s fighting units received from the Indian Army. The military suffered badly during the Premadasa era. The LTTE never allowed the military to regain the initiative during Premadasa-Wijetunga administration.
(6) All bases in the Northern region received, supplies via air and sea, as overland routes fell under the control of the enemy. Those who had been deployed in the Jaffna peninsula and surrounding islands struggled to find space in transport aircraft flying out of Palaly air base amidst sporadic shelling directed there by the Tigers.
(7) Having led the People’s Alliance to victory at the Aug 1994 parliamentary polls, Kumaratunga overwhelmingly won the presidential election a couple of months later with the backing of the LTTE. The LTTE assassinated UNP presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake in the run up to the Nov 1994 poll to ensure Kumaratunga’s victory. The world turned a blind eye to what was going on in Sri Lanka. The PA shamelessly went ahead with talks with the LTTE in spite of the massacre of over 50 persons, including Dissanayake at Thotalanga. The Premadasa-LTTE honeymoon lasted 14 months while Kumaratunga-LTTE honeymoon lasted just 108 days. The LTTE resumed Eelam War III in April 1995 by firing heat-seeking missiles at Avro transport aircraft coming to land at Palaly. Two missile strikes claimed the lives of 100 security forces officers and men and two aircraft within a matter of few days. The Kumaratunga administration was stunned. Then Kumaratunga virtually bent backwards to appease the LTTE. She ignored the sinking of SLNS Sagarawardene off Mannar in Oct 1994 and a spate of other incidents believing a political solution was at hand. She ridiculed the military and neglected the needs of the fighting military. But to her credit, once the LTTE, shot down aircraft and threatened the very survival of Jaffna military presence, Kumaratunga unleashed the military on the LTTE. During Kumaratunga’s first tenure, the military brought the Jaffna peninsula under its control. For the first time, the Army conducted large scale offensive at Division level. Liberating Jaffna was nothing but the greatest military achievement during Kumaratunga’s rule though she couldn’t finish off the LTTE. Unlike her predecessors, Kumaratunga didn’t hesitate to provide the required firepower and the political backing to the military. The then Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte played a significant role in the overall military strategy. However, Kumaratunga couldn’t keep the momentum. Within months after the capturing Jaffna, the military began gradually losing control of the Vanni region. In July 1996 the LTTE destroyed Mullaitivu Brigade comprising two battalions. The Army responded by launching Operation ‘Sath Jaya’ southwards of Elephant Pass. The operation was meant to divert public attention away from Mullaituvu debacle and regain as much as the Jaffna – Kandy A9 road as possible. The formation pushing southwards from Elephant Pass was to meet Jayasikurui offensive pushing northwards. They were to link up to re-open the overland route to Jaffna. The LTTE thwarted the government strategy. The LTTE caused such devastating losses on the military by April 2001, that the entire Jaffna peninsula was under enemy threat. Both Kankesanthurai and Palaly bases were brought within long range LTTE artillery. The LTTE rolled back ‘Sath Jaya’ troops and in April 2001 overran the strategic Elephant Pass. In Dec 1999 Kumaratunga survived an LTTE suicide attack in Colombo. On the same day, the LTTE assassinated retired Maj. Gen. Lucky Algama at Ja-Ela. Although, Kumaratunga’s forces managed to halt the LTTE advance on the Jaffna town and mount a counter attack of its own, the government offensive went awry at Muhamalai when the LTTE defeated ‘Operation Agnikheela.’ The Army never recovered from that defeat and the change of government at Dec 2001 brought UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to power.
(8) Wickremesinghe quickly negotiated a Ceasefire Agreement with the LTTE and signed it on Feb 21, 2002. The UNP caused chaos in the military. Foolish UNP leadership exposed a top secret Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) run operation resulting in the LTTE hunting down intelligence operatives, including former members of the LTTE. Under terms of the CFA negotiated by Norway and underwritten by the US, EU and Japan, the military suspended all operations.
(9) Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, accepted Norwegian mediation and declared his willingness to talk peace with the LTTE at overseas venues. Wickremesinghe did the same. Having officially suspended military operations in Feb 2002, the military faced the LTTE again in June-July 2006 at Mavil-aru. However, it wasn’t the beginning of Eelam War IV. It began in the second week of Aug 2006 with simultaneous attacks on the northern and eastern sectors. The Army suffered devastating losses. But once the combined forces regained Sampur in early Sept 2006, the forces didn’t stop until Prabhakaran was eliminated on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon on the morning of May 19, 2009. Rajapaksa sustained the offensive for two years and 10 months in spite of tremendours international pressure to suspend the offensive. President Rajapaksa gave unprecedented political leadership. The writer believes perhaps the most important decision taken by him was to authorize the doubling of the Army thereby making available sufficient infantry formations to take the battle into hitherto enemy held territory through deep penetration units and frontal assaults from several fronts.
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the Defence Secretary, ensured the implementation of the overall military-political strategy with the required wherewithal, while the service commanders, Lt. Gen Fonseka, Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda and Air Marshal Roshan Gunatilleke gave unparallelled leadership. President Sirisena’s claim that Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa fled the country during the final phase of the war (last two weeks), along with then Army Commander Lt. Gen. Fonseka was openly countered by the Field Marshal. Fonseka declared that the Rajapaksa brothers did not leave the country as alleged by President Sirisena. This certainly is an interesting development.
Examination of war history should focus on the transformation of the Navy and the Air Force with the former achieving 100 per cent success by destroying LTTE’s floating arsenals in international waters while the Air Force achieved strategic bombing that caused massive losses on the enemy, including prized Tigers killed in their hidden lairs.
The roles played by the Intelligence Services, the STF, the Civil Defence Force and those countries which provided the wherewithal to destroy, should also be part of the dossier.
A comprehensive study conducted by the US on Sri Lanka military capabilities on a request made by the Wickremesinghe government at the time Kumaratunga held the presidency could be quite useful in the proposed endeavour.
(To be continued on Oct 10)
By Shamindra Ferdinando