Swiss mystery underscores need to examine wider picture
(Courtesy of The Island)
Against the backdrop of a deepening crisis, caused by Switzerland providing political asylum to Inspector Nishantha Silva, his wife and three children, followed by accusations over alleged abduction of a local female Embassy employee, the writer examined a spate of high profile propaganda projects, carried out by interested parties, against the country, over the years.
Last week’s Midweek column inquired into as to how Sri Lanka pathetically failed to exploit Lord Naseby’s contradiction of UN war crimes charges, in Oct 2017, Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) bid to deceive the public in 2007, exposure of those propagating lies over Mannar mass graves early this year, a man alleged to have been killed by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), in late 2009, surfacing in Tamil Nadu, in May, 2014, Australia providing a new identity to one-time leading JVP activist, Kumar Gunaratnam, in 2013, and a missing LTTE child soldier showing up in an award-winning French movie.
In a way, Switzerland cannot be blamed for seeking to exploit Sri Lanka’s weakness, especially in the wake of wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election as the President just 10 days before. In line with the overall Western strategy, Switzerland accommodated Inspector Nishantha Silva in its asylum programme, caused media furore over an alleged abduction in Colombo, and then questioned the LTTE’s terrorist tag in a high profile case heard there.
The Swiss Federal Court ruled that the LTTE was not a criminal organization. The court acquitted 12 persons of charges filed by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).
In its indictment, the OAG accused them of violating the Swiss Penal Code by raising funds for the LTTE between 1999 and 2009. Following its nine-year investigation, the OAG accused them of financially supporting the World Tamil Coordinating Committee (WTCC).
But, in June 2018 the Federal Criminal Court found that the hierarchical link between the LTTE and WTCC could not be sufficiently established. The judges also felt there was not enough proof to consider the LTTE a criminal group.
In April, 2019 the OAG appealed against the verdict, insisting that the accused had supported a criminal group.
In a decision, published on Tuesday, Dec 03, the Federal Court upheld the previous ruling, noting that Article 260 in the Swiss Penal Code was designed to combat organized crime of a mafia nature though it has also been applied to terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda or the Islamic State (IS). The LTTE was not regarded as a criminal organization, at the time the funds were raised, stated the Federal Court.
Over 100 LTTE cadres in custody poisoned
Sri Lanka never took tangible measures to counter those who propagated lies in a deliberate attempt to ruin the country. They could not stomach the LTTE’s annihilation on the Vanni east front, a decade ago. One-time Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran was 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 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 boldly declared that the U.S. Air Forces 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 centres.
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 Aug 2018, 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 TNA’s Wigneswaran sought to humiliate Sri Lanka. 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, though the South overwhelmingly defeated the UNPer.
In answer to several questions The Island posed, regarding ex-LTTE cadres being poisoned, 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 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 side-stepped 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.
SLN blamed for killings carried out by the LTTE
The Sri Lanka Navy was accused of killing a group of Tamil Nadu fishermen, in early 2007, in Indian waters. Accusations placed the then Rajapaksa government in an extremely difficult position. Wartime Navy spokesman Captain D.K.P. Dassanayake (now Commodore) played a significant role in exposing the blatant lie. The writer worked closely with Dassanayake on many stories, during the war and there couldn’t be a better example than the early 2007 accusations as regards fishermen’s deaths to underscore the need to counter propaganda. Dassanayake played a significant role in countering the propaganda, directed at Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda’s Navy. Ironically, Dassanayake, himself, is now embroiled in disappearance of at least 11 Tamils, mostly in 2008. The previous UNP-led government bungled the investigation by politicizing it for obvious reasons. Dassanayake, who served with those who had been deployed off Chalai, in 2009, to intercept LTTE movements and then carried out a clandestine operation, overseas, with a small Navy team, with the backing of the DMI, found himself in real trouble over disappearance cases. Dassanayake’s team commandeered an LTTE owned ship ‘Princess Cristina’, anchored in a foreign harbour, to Colombo harbour, in Dec 2009. The writer was among those who had an opportunity to go on board the vessel immediately after its arrival at the Colombo port where a beaming Dassanayake, and his team, were received by the then Navy Chief VA Thisara Samarasinghe.
Let me discuss how the Navy tackled the missing Tamil Nadu fishermen’s case leading to the disclosure of a big lie, thanks to a chance detection made by the Maldivian Coast Guard. Dassanayake worked tirelessly to bring out the truth. He proved that there was a huge difference between just repeating battlefield reports and actually handling media for strategic purpose. The Island coverage wouldn’t have been a reality without Dassanayake’s role. Interestingly, the Defence Ministry and the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) never bothered to examine the incident as part of their overall efforts to counter lies. They never did until the end of the war, in May 2009. The Rajapaksa government made some efforts to put the record straight, in the wake of the devastating March 2011 UN report that accused the military of killing over 40,000 in 2009. However, the government failed. The public are owed an explanation as to why millions of USDs were squandered on US and UK PR firms and whether any government personality personally benefited from such projects.
The Indian case is a glaring example of deception meant to undermine the war effort against the LTTE.
In late March 2007 Karunanidhi sought the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s intervention in the wake of an attack on a Tamil Nadu fishing craft, about 35 nautical miles off Kanyakumari, well within Indian territorial waters. In a letter, dated March 31, 2007, addressed to PM Singh, Karunanidhi alleged: “… an unidentified group of attackers opened fire on a Tamil Nadu fishing boat.” He was referring to the killing of five Tamil Nadu fishermen on March 29, 2007. Quoting a fisherman who had survived the attack, the Tamil Nadu leader said that two boats, which approached the ill-fated boat from “the Sri Lankan side and without any provocation or warning, indiscriminately opened fire on the Indian boat. All the attackers, numbering about 20, were youngsters, either bare bodied or in casual dress.”
Karunanidhi made several allegations as well as recommendations to Premier Singh. Karunanidhi warned Singh that unless some stern measures were taken by the government to make Indian waters safe, the situation was likely to get out of control. Alleging that a third party might have carried out the attack, Karunanidhi urged Singh to establish the identity of attackers as well as their international connections. Karunanidhi also called for enhanced Indian Navy and Coast Guard presence in the Tamil Nadu seas and to bring the entire naval effort under a unified command.
The Sri Lankan Navy strongly denied the Tamil Nadu leader’s claims, made in the wake of a section of the Indian media accusing the SLN of the massacre.
When the SLN strongly countered the Indian media reports, Karunanidhi made a ridiculous attempt to assert that some smugglers, with international links might have killed the fishermen. The SLN insisted that there was no basis for claims that there was a third party operating in the sea.
Interestingly, on the day of the Kanyakumari massacre, there had been a high level SLN delegation in New Delhi. The delegation responded to what SLN headquarters called was unfounded allegation. The SLN recalled how the Norwegian – led Scandinavian truce monitoring mission accused an unknown third party of attacking a Chinese fishing vessel about 22 nautical miles north of Mullaitivu on March 19, 2003. The attackers mowed down 16 Chinese and two Sri Lankans on ‘FU Yuan YU 225’. The monitoring mission asserted that neither the LTTE nor the Sri Lankan government could have carried out the attack. Although those who had survived the attack as well as the crew of another Chinese vessel also operating in the area told the mission of the LTTE’s culpability, chief of monitors, retired Major General Tryggve Tellefsen requested the government and the LTTE to find, disarm and arrest ‘criminal elements’ operating on their own.
Both the truce monitoring mission and the Tamil Nadu administration went out of their way to protect the LTTE. Their approach towards terrorism baffled many (Lanka challenges bid to shield Tigers, with strap line Killing of five Tamil Nadu fishermen – The Island, April 5, 2007).
The Indian Coast Guard made a crucial but chance breakthrough on April 11, 2007. Having spotted two ‘vallams’ 26.5 nautical miles southeast of Kanyakumari, a Coast Guard vessel had ordered them to stop. It was among nine ships backed by three maritime aircraft engaged in a special operation in the wake of the Kanyakumari massacre. The Coast Guard swiftly apprehended the ‘vallams’ and took 12 persons into custody.
A section of the Chennai-based media quickly identified the arrested persons as armed Sinhala men. The widely read Dinakaran, affiliated to the ruling DMK, on a front-page report declared that 12 fishermen were in custody. But the arrested consisted of six Sri Lankan Tamils and six Tamil Nadu fishermen. The six Sri Lankans were identified as Arul Gnanadasan (20), C. Robin (23), S. Selvakumar (19), M. Pannibose (28), D. Arul (19) and Ravi Kumar (24). Under interrogation, the Indians claimed that they had no option but to rescue the Sri Lankans stranded off Kanyakumari in a trawler named ‘Maria.’ The Indian Coast Guard seized the two ‘vallams’, about 14 nautical miles away from the ‘Maria’.
India ignored an SLN request for an opportunity to interrogate the arrested Sri Lankans, whom the Navy believed had been involved in the Kanyakumari massacre. The SLN strongly suspected that the six arrested Sri Lankan Tamils were LTTE cadres assigned for a special operation aimed at transferring armaments from the high seas to the Vanni, via Indian waters. The Coast Guard detection and subsequent revelations embarrassed the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister; though he pretended he wasn’t bothered at all (Indian Coast Guard seizes ‘Maria’, six Lankan Tamils-The Island April 16, 2007).
Although India arrested several LTTE cadres, during 2007, beginning with the apprehension of three persons, along with two Indians on February 13, 2007 off Kodiyakarai, the SLN was never given an opportunity to question them (Lanka wants access to ‘terror’ suspects in Tamil Nadu custody-The Island April 19, 2007).
In spite of the DMK’s attempts to whitewash the LTTE, the ‘Q’ branch of the Indian Criminal Investigation Department (CID), on April 27, 2007, accused the LTTE of carrying out the Kanyakumari massacre. The ‘Q’ branch asserted that the six Sri Lankans arrested in the company of Tamil Nadu, men on April 11, 2007, were members of special Sea Tiger squads deployed to ferry arms, ammunition and equipment from an LTTE ship on the high seas. According to a two-page note issued by the then Tamil Nadu Director General of Police, the group in Indian custody was among the units given this task. The arrested persons claimed that members of another Sea Tiger squad carried out the Kanyakumari massacre, whereas the SLN believed the group in custody was responsible. The police chief said that the boat involved in the March 29, 2007, attack also bore the inscription ‘Maria.’
The ‘Q’ branch made another extremely important revelation into clandestine LTTE operations. The investigation resulted in one of the most important findings made during 2007, thanks to a chance detection made by the tiny Maldivian Coast Guard, a couple of weeks later. Under interrogation, those Sea Tiger cadres, arrested on April 11, 2007, revealed that another squad had seized a large Indian fishing vessel, ‘Sri Krishna’, on March 4, 2007 close to the Indo – Lanka maritime boundary. The seized vessel’s crew comprised 12 men-10 from Kanyakumari and one each from Thoothukudi and Kerala. The arrested persons claimed that the Sea Tigers commandeered the vessel after having transferred the crew in an LTTE craft to the Vanni. The ‘Q’ branch made the revelation in the backdrop of some interested parties alleging that the SLN either seized or destroyed ‘Sri Krishna’ (LTTE massacred Indian fishermen, seized large vessel with 12 men with strap line Tamil Nadu probe reveals-The Island April 29, 2007).
LTTE Political Wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan accused the SLN of seizing Sri Krishna.
A humiliated Karunanidhi informed the State Assembly of the LTTE’s direct involvement in a spate of incidents. The DMK leader had no option but to acknowledge the LTTE’s complicity in attacks on Tamil Nadu fishermen. However, the opposition AIADMK didn’t make a big issue about it. Then much to the surprise of all, the Centre intervened on behalf the LTTE. No less a person than the then Defence Minister, A.K. Anthony, reiterated the hotly disputed charge that the SLN was continuing attacks on Tamil Nadu fishermen in the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar. Anthony was responding on May 9, 2007 to a query raised by C. Perumal in the Rajya Sabha.
Perumal was evidently acting at the behest of the LTTE lobby. Reporting a slight increase in such attacks, Minister Anthony accused the SLN of killing 77 Tamil Nadu fishermen between 1991 and 2007 period. India totally overlooked a spate of incidents as well as the findings made by the ‘Q’ branch.
Sri Lanka strongly denied Indian claims alleging complicity on the part of some Indian officials in the LTTE terror campaign (India shields Tigers despite compelling evidence of attacks on TN fishermen with strap line…overlooks Kanyakumari massacre, seizure of Sri Krishna with 12 men, castigates SLN in Rajya Sabha-The Island May 11, 2007).
What Tamil Nadu, as well as India, never expected was the Maldives intervening in the clandestine LTTE arms smuggling operation. That intervention was made by the Maldivian Coast Guard on May 16, 2007. The Maldivian Coast Guard engaged a vessel carrying the Sri Lankan flag after the latter fired at a Maldivian fishing craft. Following a 12-hour standoff, the Maldivians sank the craft flying the Sri Lankan flag. There had been some Indian naval personnel on-board the Maldivian craft at the time of the confrontation. The Indian presence ensured that their government knew what exactly happened in the Maldivian waters. The Maldivians rescued five persons who jumped overboard from the sinking vessel, subsequently identified as ‘Sri Krishna’. The rescued men told the Maldivians and their Indian instructors (The Indians were helping the Maldivian Coast Guard personnel to familiarize with CG vessel Huravee, gifted by New Delhi to Male) the circumstances under which they were found in Maldivian waters, while engaged in transferring armaments from a floating warehouse. Sri Krishna’s skipper, Simon Soza had been among the five rescued by the Maldivians. The Sea Tigers admitted that the remaining Indians (other members of ‘Sri Krsihna’ crew) were being held in a camp in the Vanni (Maldives sink Indian craft hijacked by Sea Tigers-The Island May 18, 2007).
The sinking of the ‘Sri Krishna’ was the second high profile incident involving an Indian trained terrorist group in Maldivian territory. The raid on Male during the first week of November, 1988 by sea borne PLOTE (People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) terrorists at the behest of a Colombo-based Maldivian businessman, Abdulla Luthufee was the first. Interestingly, the Indian Navy sank MV Progress Light commandeered by Luthufee’s mercenaries in a bid to reach Sri Lankan waters. The writer had the opportunity to interview Luthufee, both at his residence and the home of the writer.
Had the SLN had an effective deployment in the seas off the northwestern coast, it could have thwarted an LTTE plan to shift the remaining crew of ‘Sri Krishna’ from the Vanni mainland to Tamil Nadu. The LTTE transferred altogether 11 Indians on May 18 and dropped them at two different locations. Had Soza died during the confrontations, the LTTE would have quietly killed the Indians to cover-up the Sri Krishna episode. The Maldives promptly responded to an SLN request to question those in their custody. Their interrogation helped SLN efforts to break the enemy sea supply route (LTTE frees Indians after losing ‘Sri Krishna’ with strap line SLN gains access to Sea Tigers in Maldivian custody-The Island, May 20, 2007).
Soon after the Maldivians had intercepted the ‘Sri Krishna’, the Norwegian embassy in Colombo sought information from the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo regarding the incident. The Norwegians probably got in touch with the Maldivians at the behest of the LTTE. However, by the time Norway got in touch with the diplomatic mission, the Maldivians had cleared SLN intelligence to interrogate those in their custody (Foreign embassy tried to help LTTE arms vessel escape with strap line Sinking of ‘Sri Krishna’ by the Maldivian Coast Guard-The Island May 26, 2007).
Sri Lanka needs to examine the wider picture when probing the conduct of the Switzerland Embassy in Colombo.
By Shamindra Ferdinando