Genocide charge reiterated
(Courtesy of The Island)
Lawmaker Gajendrakumar Ponnanbalam, 46, on August 21, in Parliament, alleged that the Tamil community, in the North-East, had been subjected to genocide, Sri Lanka committed war crimes during phase IV of the war and that they wanted international accountability.
Ponnambalam deviated from the Geneva Accountability Resolution, co-sponsored by the previous UNP-SLFP/UPFA coalition, in Oct 2015. That resolution was meant to set up hybrid war crimes courts, comprising local and foreign judges, in terms of a tripartite agreement, involving Sri Lanka, the US and the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA).
Having represented the LTTE mouthpiece, the TNA twice, in Parliament, in 2001 and 2004, Ponnambalam addressed Parliament, last week, as the leader of the Ahila Illankai Tamil Congress (AITC), a constituent of the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF). The TNPF, established in 2010, had never been previously represented in Parliament, though it contested both the 2010 April and 2015 August parliamentary polls. In addition to Ponnanbalam, the TNPF secured one National List slot. Ponnambalam accommodated Selvarasa Gajenthiran, who quit TNA, along with him in 2010, on the National List.
Angajan Ramanathan, elected to Parliament on the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) ticket, from the Jaffna electoral district, was in the chair at the time Ponnambalam delivered his explosive statement. Former UPFA National List member Ramanathan is the Deputy Chairman of Committees.
Gajendrakumar dismissed an attempt made by the State Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government, retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, to intervene. In fact, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna member Weerasekera was the only one to make an attempt to challenge Ponnambalam, in Parliament, on that day. The former Navy Chief of Staff was not successful. On the previous day, Weerasekera wanted to respond to C.V. Wigneswaran, leader of the Thamizh Makkal Kootani (TMK), though was asked by his party not to, as only party leaders addressed Parliament, during the inaugural session.
GP, Wiggy mount frontal assault
Both Ponnambalam and Wigneswaran represented the R. Sampanthan-led TNA earlier. Ponnambalam quit the TNA, in March 2010, having successfully contested the Jaffna district twice, in 2001 and 2004, with the blessings of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). At that time, TNA nominations, as well as the National List, were subjected to the LTTE’s approval. Former Supreme Court Judge Wigneswaran functioned as the first Chief Minister of the TNA-run Northern Province, during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure as the President.
The TNA stood solidly with the LTTE as it declared Eelam War IV, in August 2006, with simultaneous attacks on the Army, both in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
Ponnambalam attacked President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s policy statement. The lawmaker targeted the following section in particular: “It is equally important to precisely interpret the mandate given by the people. We respect the trust that the people have placed in me and the Prime Minister and the newly elected people’s representatives. We have a clear understanding of the expectations with which the people gave such a powerful mandate to the government. We will leave no room for such expectations to be dashed for any reason. It should always be remembered that the prime responsibility of a people’s representative is to serve the public. We will be sensitive to fulfilling the needs of the people, keeping in mind that all these positions are responsibilities and not privileges.”
Ponnanmalam declared that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s mandate (2019 November presidential and 2020 August parliamentary polls) did not extend to the North-East region. Ponnambalam depicted the vote received by all Tamils, including SLFP’s Ramanathan and the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) Douglas Devananda, elected to the new Parliament, as one that overwhelmingly endorsed self-determination of the Tamil speaking people. Ponnambalam justified international intervention on the basis of the Tamil community being deprived of the security it deserved.
Declaring them (Tamil lawmakers) received a mandate for Tamil rights to be recognized, Ponnambalam declared: “two nations exist in this country.”
Int’l intervention justified
“Sovereignty can never be a defence. This country has gone through a war and the whole world says that heinous crimes have been committed and the state is the number one accused party,” Ponnambalam declared, adding “Under no circumstances can any President, or any country, for that matter, try to hide behind the concept of sovereignty, to prevent accountability for heinous crimes. The victims of these heinous crimes stand as Tamils… the major victims stand as Tamils and they have consistently said that genocide has been committed and that they want international accountability.”
When Ponnambalam went on and on repeating war crimes allegations, in Parliament, former Presidents and Commanders-in-Chief, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena, as well as war-winning Army Chief Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, were present. Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, too, was present.
It would be pertinent to ask lawmaker Ponnambalam whether, as a member of the TNA, he endorsed the party’s decision to vote for the then common presidential candidate General Sarath Fonseka at the January 26, 2010 presidential election. Did the TNA decision to join the UNP-led coalition, comprising the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) et al unanimously approved by all constituents of the TNA?
Why North, East endorsed Fonseka?
Now that Ponnambalam reiterated genocide allegations, he owed an explanation why the Tamil community overwhelmingly endorsed Fonseka at the presidential election. Fonseka comfortably won all electoral districts, in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, though the South ensured Mahinda Rajapaksa secured a second term, with a staggering 1.8 mn majority. Mahinda Rajapaksa polled 6,015,934 votes (57.88%) whereas Fonseka received 4,173,185 votes (40.15%). Fonseka comfortably won the predominantly Tamil electoral districts of Jaffna, Vanni, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Digamadulla and Nuwara-Eliya.
The 2010 presidential election was held less than a year after the armed forces eradicated the LTTE. Blindly accusing Sri Lanka of war crimes, and genocide, seemed ridiculous, after having voted for the very man who conducted the ground offensive that brought the LTTE to its knees, in May 2009.
Accusing the Sri Lankan state of attacking Tamils, Ponnambalam justified international intervention here. But not so much as even a word about many Tamils, including so many moderates who were butchered by the terrorists in cold blood like internationally respected jurist and TULFer Dr Neelan Thiruchelvam or even a person like TULF Leader Appapillai Amirthalingam for merely ruffling the feathers of the LTTE. Both Ponnambalam and Wigneswaran conveniently forgot how India transformed a low level insurgency, in the North, to an unprecedented terrorist campaign.
Interpreting ‘own citizens’
Ponnambalam advised President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who, during his 20-year service as a frontline combat officer of the Sri Lanka Army, fought Indian-sponsored terrorist groups. “What the President must also realize is that when it comes to international relations, sovereignty comes with a certain baggage, one of the most cornerstone principles on which sovereignty will be compromised is if within the country the state does not protect its own citizens, or, even worse, if, within the country, the state attacks its own citizens,” Ponnambalam declared.
Perhaps, other members of Parliament should remind Ponnambalam that the LTTE, as well as half a dozen other Tamil groups, that consisted of Tamils who waged war on the State. Fighting among Tamil groups claimed the lives of hundreds before they all, except the LTTE, renounced violence, in 1990. Those who had been categorized as ‘own citizens’ also killed over 1,300 Indian servicemen and wounded over 2,500 (Oct 1987-January 1990) and blew up one-time Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Former Indian High Commissioner in Colombo J.N. Dixit, didn’t mince his words when he admitted direct Indian involvement in destabilizing Sri Lanka in ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun to Yashwant Sinha.’ India paid a terrible price for destabilizing Sri Lanka. Indian-trained Sri Lankan terrorists tried to capture power, in the Maldives, in Nov 1988. The Tamil community cannot absolve itself of the culpability for the mass killings perpetrated in the name of ‘Eelam.’ Where were those elected representatives of the Tamil people when the LTTE used the Vanni population as human shield in its last bastion Mullaitivu?
Perhaps, those propagating war crimes allegations, in Parliament, should peruse Australia-based ex-terrorist Niromi de Soyza’s ‘Tamil Tigress’, first published in 2011, two years after Sri Lankan military finished off the LTTE on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon. S. Attanayake of Kottawa, Pannipitiya, sent the writer ‘Tamil Tigress’ having read the Midweek piece, titled ‘Chargie’s predicament inspires novel, highlights Lanka’s pathetic response to external threats,’ published on March 18, 2020. It was a comment on award-winning author Sena Thoradeniya’s ‘Nimala Mala-Miya Giya Soldaduwekuge Nomiyena Kathawa’ (Immortal Story of a Dead Soldier). Attanayake quite rightly guessed the writer hadn’t read ‘Tamil Tigress’ hence sending it by post soon after the government lifted the ‘Covid lockdown.’
GP’s entry into TNA politics
Qualified as a barrister-at-law, in the UK, in 1997, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam received Sri Lanka qualification as an attorney-at-law, two years later, before entering active politics, in the wake of his father Kumar Ponnambalam’s assassination, in early January 2000.
Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam’s All Ceylon Tamil Congress/Ahila Illankai Tamil Congress. Its roots can be traced to his legendary grandfather G.G. Ponnambalam QC, who was a colossus as a lawyer and politician. ACTC had been among the four parties which formed the TNA, in Oct, 2001, at the behest of the LTTE. Constituents included, in addition to Ahila Illankai Tamil Congress, the TULF (Tamil United Liberation Front) and two former terrorist groups TELO (Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization) and the PLOTE (People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam). The TNA functioned as the political wing of the LTTE. The TNA had been subservient to the LTTE to such an extent; it recognized Prabhakaran as the sole representative of the Tamils.
The TNA remained mum when the sole representative quit the negotiating table, in April 2003, to pave the way for the presidential takeover of ministries and, subsequently, the sacking of the UNP government. Kumaratunga called for early general election, in April 2004. The LTTE unleashed violence against those who dared to challenge the TNA in the then temporarily merged North-East region. Thanks to the LTTE intervention, the TNA secured 22 seats. Having won the lion’s share of seats in the North-East region, the TNA-LTTE combine, in Nov 2005, ordered Tamils to boycott the presidential election. The move was meant to ensure UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat. The UNPer lost by 186,000 votes. Those who allege the Rajapaksa Camp bribed the LTTE to disrupt election in the North and East to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s advantage should explain whether the LTTE received money from them. As the TNA announced the polls boycott, on behalf of the LTTE, it owed an explanation to the public. Did the LTTE receive money from the Rajapaksa Camp?
The truth is that the LTTE and the TNA really believed they could take care of Mahinda Rajapaksa far more easily than Wickremesinghe. Having dug its own grave, the LTTE faced a relentless three-year military onslaught, once it initiated a military offensive in the second week of August 2006.
The armed forces eradicated the LTTE, in May 2009. In the following year, the TNA backed the very man who led the campaign against the LTTE at the presidential poll.
Accusations pertaining to war crimes and genocide, in Parliament, should be examined against the backdrop of the TNA losing political clout, following the poor performance at the general election. The TNA parliamentary group now comprises 10 lawmakers. In the last Parliament, the TNA group consisted of 16. The TNA won 16 seats when it contested the general election, for the very first time, in 2001. At the 2004 general election, the LTTE threw its full weight behind the TNA to enable the coalition to win 22 seats, 14 seats in 2010 and 16 in 2015. In spite of the setback suffered by the TNA, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam and Wigneswaran are likely to go flat out against the government.
In the wake of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa presenting his policy statement, a section of the much-depleted TNA met the Indian High Commissioner. The meeting took place on Friday, August 21. The TNA, in a brief statement issued on the same day, quoted Indian High Commissioner Gopal Bagley as having assured India’s continuing commitments to finding a resolution to the Tamil national question in Sri Lanka. The TNA delegation consisted of R. Sampanthan Mavai Senathirajah, Dharmalingam Siddarthan, Selvam Adaikalanathan and M.A. Sumanthiran. ITAK (Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi) leader Mavai Senathirajah is no longer an MP having been defeated at the August 05 general election.
It would be interesting to see whether Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam and Wigneswaran received invitations from the Indian High Commission.
Over 100 LTTE cadres in custody poisoned
Let me finish this piece by reminding how the likes of Wigneswaran propagated lies. Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara’s brother-in-law, Wigneswaran, chided the government over the July1983 violence, while insisting the need to consult India, if the government wanted to do away with the 13th Amendment, introduced in line with the Indo-Lanka Accord. Wigneswaran should know that the July 1983 violence wouldn’t have happened if not for India providing the LTTE expertise to wipe out a mobile military patrol. India sponsored terrorism here to create the conditions required for direct military intervention. The incumbent government should set the record straight, at least now.
Sri Lanka never took tangible measures against those who propagated lies as part of an overall strategy to ruin the country. Some cannot stomach the LTTE’s annihilation, on the Vanni east front, over a decade ago. Wigneswaran is one such person. Wigneswaran, and a section of the Tamil media, in August 2016, accused the military of killing over 100 LTTE combatants, in custody, by poisoning them. The PTI and NDTV were among the international media which reported unsubstantiated allegations.
Accusers placed the number of such deaths at 104. Accusations were made while the U.S. Pacific Command’s ‘Pacific Angel’ exercise was underway, in the Jaffna peninsula.
Wigneswaran brashly declared that the U.S. Air Force’s medical team, in Jaffna, would examine the former rehabilitated LTTE cadres, who, he alleged, had fallen sick because they were injected with poisonous substances, at government detention, or rehabilitation camps.
The then State Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene and Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne dismissed the vicious accusations. Wijewardene offered the international community access to rehabilitation facilities. What the Minister didn’t realize was that by August 2016, the vast majority of ex-LTTE combatants had been released.
The US conveniently refrained from making its position clear on Wigneswaran’s claim when the writer raised the issue with the US Embassy in Colombo. There had never been such a claim, before Wigneswaran sought to humiliate Sri Lanka with it. It would be pertinent to mention that one-time LTTE subordinate, the TNA, backed common candidate Maithripala Sirisena, at the 2015 presidential poll, having earlier supported Gen. Sarath Fonseka at the previous poll. On both occasions, the TNA delivered all northern and eastern electoral districts to Fonseka and Sirisena, who contested on the New Democratic Front (NDF) ticket with the ‘Swan’ as its symbol. The TNA did the same for Sajith Premadasa, in the North and the East at the last presidential poll, though the South overwhelmingly defeated the UNPer.
In answer to several questions The Island posed, regarding ex-LTTE cadres being poisoned, the US Embassy said: “Operation Pacific Angel is providing assistance, based on the specific needs of the local communities. Among the nearly 70 members of this multilateral assistance programme – including some medical staff and engineers from Bangladesh, Nepal, and the Maldives, as well as the United States – are over 40 doctors, providing basic medical services: dental procedures; physical therapy; general medical assistance; and optometry. These are the only services being provided.”
The writer asked the US Embassy whether it could confirm that US Pacific Command personnel, conducting medical tests on ex-LTTE cadres, allegedly poisoned by the previous government; whether they would be moved to overseas medical facility for further tests; whether the GoSL had been informed of the development; when did the TNA request the US intervention and whether the US military had conducted similar tests in other countries. For obvious reasons, the US refrained from responding to The Island queries.
The five-day ‘Operation Pacific Angle’ was launched, in Jaffna, by the then US Ambassador in Colombo Atul Keshap.
The New Indian Express quoted Wigneswaran as having said that the US Air Force’s medical team would examine ex-LTTE cadres who had been sick because they were injected with poisonous substances by the Sri Lankan armed military while they were undergoing detention, or rehabilitation. Wigneswaran, according to the New Indian Express, had told the NPC (Northern Provincial Council) that he had mentioned the plight of the former combatants in his conversation with the US Ambassador, Atul Keshap, and asked if the USAF team could examine them and give an independent report.
Wigneswaran’s allegations died a natural death. The TNA, or the US, never discussed the issue publicly. But, such calculated lies caused massive damage.
ICRC on genocide accusation
A leaked cable, dated July 15, 2009, signed by the then Geneva-based US Ambassador, Clint Williamson, cleared the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) of crimes against humanity during the Vanni offensive. The cable addressed to the US State Department, was based on a confidential conversation Ambassador Williamson had with the then ICRC head of operations for South Asia, Jacque de Maio, on July 9, 2009. Ambassador Williamson wrote: “The army was determined not to let the LTTE escape from its shrinking territory, even though this meant the civilians being kept hostage by the LTTE were at an increasing risk. So, de Maio said, while one could safely say that there were ‘serious, widespread violations of international humanitarian law,’ by the Sri Lankan forces, it didn’t amount to genocide. He (Maio) could cite examples of where the army had stopped shelling when the ICRC informed them it was killing civilians. In fact, the army actually could have won the military battle faster with higher civilian casualties, yet chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths. He concluded, however, by asserting that the GoSL failed to recognize its obligation to protect civilians, in spite of its approach resulting in higher military casualties.” Sri Lanka never properly used available information, including Wikileaks revelations, pertaining to Sri Lanka and Lord Naseby’s disclosure to counter lies. The travel ban slapped on Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva, as well as Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, by the US is evidence of Sri Lanka’s continuing failure to set the record straight.