Military Matters


ACF aid workers in Muttur
Probe shows Army Commandos were in vicinity

The Criminal Justice system in Sri Lanka woke up to the killing of High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya barely three years back. And with lightning speed, the system got the ball rolling. The two people who spearheaded the campaign to bring the culprits to justice were Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva and Solicitor General C.R. De Silva, who is now the Attorney-General.

If killing a judge is a heinous crime against the judiciary, killing almost a dozen and a half aid workers, execution style, is a crime against humanity. It is a repugnant act that smells to the high heavens.

Tragic deaths

On August 4 of last year, as the battle continued for control of Muttur, 17 workers from the French-based Action Contre La Faim (Action Against Hunger, or ACF) were shot through the head at point blank range while dressed in ACF t-shirts.
ACF has worked in Sri Lanka for a decade and, at the time of the incident, had been working in the Muttur area to assist in the supply of clean water and in the promotion of economic activities for victims of the 2004 tsunami.
On August 1, 2006, the group of young aid workers from ACF had traveled by ferry from Trincomalee to Muttur, only to find themselves caught up in the sudden outbreak of war and unable to return as planned.
The Tigers had penetrated and taken control of parts of Muttur town, which is strategically situated on the road to Mavilaru where the army had launched an offensive to seize an irrigation sluice gate that had been closed by the Tigers. The military rained down heavy rocket and artillery fire on the area, forcing tens of thousands of residents to flee.
ACF lost contact with its aid workers, who were at their Muttur office until August 4 when the military reclaimed the town. The tragic news of their killings only emerged the following day.

Still no charges

Despite international pressure, the authorities have failed to find out who killed these aid workers more than one year ago. The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, tied his recent visit to Sri Lanka to coincide with the first anniversary of the killings.
“A full year has passed since this crime. No one has been apprehended or charged, and in many ways we seem little nearer to the truth. What we need to know is who did this and why,” said Holmes, “to ensure it is not repeated.”
Holmes went on to say, “I cannot think of another incident where so many members of a single humanitarian agency were murdered at the same time in such a dreadfully deliberate and calculating way. That is why I repeat the call of the Secretary-General (UN) to the government of Sri Lanka to investigate this murder with the full weight and force of the justice system.”

Army commandos were in area
Despite the flak UN officials have drawn, their efforts have not proven futile—the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the killing of the 17 aid workers has taken up this case as a priority on request from the international community.
The Presidential Commission has now been informed that Army Commandos were in and around the area during the time interval that doctors have determined to be the time when the killings took place. This is a revelation compared with the original position—maintained by some members of the government—that the LTTE was responsible for the cold-blooded killings.
However, accepting that army commandos were around when the killings occurred does not rule out the possibility of an LTTE hand in them. For at around the same time almost four dozen military informants were killed in the nearby jungle—allegedly by the LTTE. Thus, whether these were tit-for-tat killings or whether they were designed to deliberately tarnish the image of the military, as the LTTE had been implicated in the other killings, must also be taken into consideration.
Some also believe that the drastic action may not have been pre-meditated but simply a reaction in a situation of a war that had just begun.
Confusing the picture further, the military’s initial blocking of access to monitoring mission officials may also be an attempt at concealing the truth.
In any event, the commandos—who, according to entries, were there at that time—should be questioned.

Government hits back
While the pressure from the international community will eventually bear fruit, the government strongly feels it is incorrect to browbeat a sovereign state.
The international community feels that by trying to shield those possibly involved, the Government has been trying to indemnify its acts, bringing the administration into international disrepute.
Not willing to sit quietly and simply draw flak, however, the authorities took the ‘matter of the missing bullet’ to the Australian High Commission. Whereby, Australian Pathologist Michael Dodd, who made the unfounded claim that one bullet was missing, soon retracted it.

The Government is particularly miffed at the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) over its failure to offer even one word of apology after Dodd himself retracted his statement about the missing bullet. Dodd even admitted that he is not a ballistics expert although he has written one chapter of a book on the topic.
The Government is also trying to absolve itself of the charges of “unwarranted interference” in judicial proceedings it has incurred by changing the original Muttur Magistrate.
Last August the Muttur Magistrate lost some of his belongings, including his mobile, which were looted. After receiving his complaint, the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) through the Justice Secretary Suhada Gamlath, who was Secretary of the Inter Ministerial Committee on Human Rights, intervened to expedite the process by relieving the magistrate from this inquiry.
The original magistrate was then replaced by the Anuradhapura Magistrate, with the inquest proceedings held in Kantale. The Muttur Magistrate has, however, already provided evidence to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe have both reiterated the government’s position that they will continue to seek out the truth in this matter.

Call for independent investigation
According to an ICJ report, Senior British barrister, Michael Birnbaum QC, found significant flaws in the investigation carried out by the local police and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID)—flaws which were based on the allegations made in the Dodd report.
The ICJ report called for a team independent of the police and security forces to investigate this crime, to identify the perpetrators, and to report to the Attorney-General, who should then ensure that those responsible are prosecuted. The ICJ also recommended a comprehensive witness protection programme be established.
This would be most welcome as a fear psychosis has prevailed throughout the investigations such that eye witnesses are not forthcoming to bear evidence in the case.

The ICJ report also maintains that the two magistrates appointed had conducted the inquest with sensitivity and fairness, and that the “improper substitution” did not compromise their independence or impartiality.
The result of the inquest proceedings was the killings were a homicide and obviously not suicides or an accident. While the outgoing SLMM chief, in a passing reference, blamed the killing on the security forces, the police blamed it on the LTTE—both sans evidence. It is thus clear the case must remain wide open.

Condemning the killing as a ‘war crime’, the international community has demanded an independent investigation. Yet, before the independent investigation could even begin, a senior minister shot his mouth off by labeling the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs a terrorist, when a clear definition of terrorism is yet to emerge from the UN even.
It was only last week that Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremenayake also made scathing remarks about Holmes. It appears that a requirement for retaining the post of premier and vying for it is ‘international bashing’ and defence of a government under siege.
In the end, the Criminal Justice system must ensure that crimes such as the killing of the 17 aid workers do not go unpunished if the country is to avoid sanctions and eventual intervention. At the same time, the international community, which is playing a judicious role, should be fair and objective. (K.N)


Jaffna SF Commander escapes artillery strike

LTTE using satellite surveillance on targets?

The ink had hardly dried on last week’s column, in which Senpathi dwelt on the LTTE’s artillery power, when the Tigers attempted selective targeting of a very senior officer in the Jaffna Peninsula.
Jaffna Security Forces Commander Major General G.A. Chandrasiri was targeted in an artillery strike close to the military’s Forward Defence Lines (FDLs). The incident, which sent shock waves through the defence hierarchy, was kept under wraps.
The LTTE had previously targeted another Commander, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, on April 25 last year in a suicide blast that put him out of action for three months. General Fonseka, a battle hardened veteran who had been seriously injured at least twice before, was soon back in action and proved his mettle with results to show.

Even as Fonseka was indisposed, however, the LTTE struck and killed the deputy chief of staff Major General Parami Kulatunga in another suicide blast—achieved, of course, with connivance from within.
General Chandrasiri, who is seen as a possible future Army Commander, was lucky to escape the attack this week and the authorities would do well to investigate whether General Chandrasiri’s movements are being monitored by the LTTE through a mole.

The army is now closely monitoring its men and the LTTE, which has put the suicide bomber to good use in the past, is now finding it difficult to penetrate the security ring of senior military officers. Thus the next best option for the LTTE is to accurately target key officers through artillery strikes.
It is clear that LTTE artillery fire has targeted high value concentrations with shooting directed to coordinates provided. There have been two classic examples where the LTTE has succeeded in this in the recent past.
The first was the artillery strike in February this year, which occurred in the Kodikamam area during a conference where the Mechanised Infantry Brigade was inaugurated. In that strike, Brigade Commander Lt. Col. Ralph Nugera and 13 others—including two of his Commanding officers—were injured. The strike came from three directions including Pallai and Pooneryn. One of the injured Commanding officers has since returned to the front while the other Commanding officer and the Brigade Commander himself are still indisposed. The 531 Acting Brigade Commander is currently Lt. Col. Shantha Dissanayaka from Gajaba Regiment.

The second example was similar and occurred when a group of journalists were taken on a guided tour of Muhamalai last year after the Security Forces successfully thwarted an attack by the Tigers on the FDLs. Just as the Armoured Personnel Carrier carrying the journalists came to a halt, artillery fire rained in that direction and a security force personnel on guard had his head blown off.
This week’s reconnaissance mission by the Tigers was only undertaken to mislead the forces as the LTTE was not in a position to take on the army across the FDLs where the army is well entrenched.
The LTTE, which now has 22 122mm artillery guns, a couple of 152mm long-range guns, and 130 mm artillery guns are now mastering the art of precision.

The defence authorities would do well to ascertain through intelligence and other means whether the Tigers were using satellite surveillance by obtaining real time images at a huge cost from companies operating in several countries including France where there is a large Tamil Diaspora.
The LTTE has never hesitated to go for the latest in technology as it has the funds through which to finance this. In some instances the LTTE has even led the way only to be followed by the military, which has financial restrictions.
Meanwhile, there has been relative calm with the cease-fire in the Madhu area holding during the festive season. But, according to military intelligence, in places including Papakadathahn and Kalmadu in the greater Madhu region, the LTTE has installed its big guns.

It is learned that the Tigers have buried anti personnel mines and booby traps on the FDLs to prevent any possible breakthrough by the security forces. In the Wanni, the LTTE is waiting for the troops to take them on in a war of attrition. This comes months after the troops routed the LTTE in the East, which has left the Tigers still licking their wounds waiting for the right time to strike back.