Military Matters


Govt. positioning itself to finish war

One important matter that President Mahinda Rajapaksa, as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Services, attended to before leaving for the United Nations General Assembly was to extend the tenure of two of his service chiefs.
The tenures of Navy Commander Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda and Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, which were to end in November and December, respectively, were extended.

While, in the case of the Air Force Commander, Air Vice Marshall Roshan Goonetilleke, there was no need for an extension as he already has three more years left on his tenure. The extension granted to the Army Commander last year was made comparatively late— in mid-November—but this time the President had no hesitation in granting his third extension in mid-September, three months ahead of the effective date.

Several months ago, this column predicted the army chief was to get another extension as he was viewed by the defence establishment as indispensable in the war to defeat the LTTE. The Army Chief, for his part, knows the value of a non political but influential Defence Secretary like Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in carrying out this war to completion.
The LTTE, which had also identified the value of both the Army Commander and the Defence Secretary, had tried to eliminate them in suicide bomb blasts before and during the war, respectively.

It was also clear that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was concerned that the LTTE was trying to influence the international community to get the government to stall the war in order to enable the LTTE a respite in which to regroup and build itself up once more; even saying so during a passing out parade of Home Guards on August 20.

To ensure that the international community would not be able to put pressure on the President to stall the extensions on the tenure of his service chiefs, President Rajapaksa was requested to do the honours well in advance.

Quelling frictions
The Defence Secretary, who has been happy with all three of his service chiefs, had been waiting for the right time to extend the services of the Navy Commander: What better a time than when the Navy registers its biggest victory by destroying three LTTE ships within a space of 24 hours?

By extending the tenures, the President will manage—in once single move—to not only keep both ex-Anandian service chiefs happy, but also prevent any friction in the stakes for the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) slot.

In the case of the Navy Commander, it is he who is the more senior in view of the fact that he became a service chief as far back as September 1, 2005. Although, General Fonseka, who assumed the role of Commander Army on December 6, 2005, could stake a claim on account of his vast expertise in ground operations, having enlisted to the army on February 5, 1970—long before the war erupted. While, in adding strength to his claim, Fonseka, as Jaffna Security Forces Commmander, did not allow the UNF government to allow the dismantling of the High Security Zones in Jaffna, despite appeal after appeal by the LTTE.
The incumbent CDS Air Marshall, Donald Perera, is not the vociferous type and, in fact, allows the army chief to plan out and execute operations. In this way, there is less friction.

Government will finish war
That this government is bent on finishing the war is more than obvious. But, the LTTE is known to be a resilient organization that has outlived governments here, in India, and soon in the US.
The LTTE Leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, has remained while generals and service chiefs have retired. But this government is keen on retaining its service chiefs until Prabhakaran is defeated; hence the multiple extensions.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa made it very clear, not once but twice in the space of three weeks, that the military will not turn back having completed half or two thirds of its mission. The statement he made in Trincomalee was given in the presence of the country’s commander in chief of the armed services, and, as such, it was an official declaration that the war will continue.
The extension of the terms of the two service chiefs on Wednesday also dispels any ambiguity created by Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollogama—three days after the first statement, and the very same day as last statement (Sept. 10)—about the government’s plans.
It seems significant then that, almost as if to confirm his brother’s twin statements, President Rajapaksa made the extensions of tenure.

STF losing favour?
Meanwhile, STF Commandant Nimal Lewke—who inspired his men into securing swathes of territory in the Amparai district in the operations there—has not found favour within the defence hierarchy. It is the STF that is manning a large part of the cleared areas in the East, including in Batticaloa and other places. His junior, Balasuriya, was promoted as Commandant STF.
This certainly is a demotion—not in rank but in position; a practice prevalent in some of the armed services. It was likely to cause heartburn unless the reason for such an action was the failure on the part of Lewke to rein in his men who are alleged to have been involved in some excesses in the East.

Muslims fear colonisation
For its part, the Commission of Inquiry has commenced public hearings in Pottuvil in connection with the killing of 11 Muslims. The Muslim community in the East has entertained fears of colonisation in the East, believing they are likely to lose lands to Sinhalese. They cite that, very recently, the Divisional Secretary of Muttur, which overlooks Sampur, was removed, and, in his place, a junior officer in the service was appointed. The former Divisional Secretary was, of course, given a kick upstairs and appointed as Secretary to the Eastern Provincial Council.

This development comes at a time when the government plans to hold Provincial Council elections for the East, with election monitors possibly from the SAARC region, EU, and the Commonwealth.

Resurrecting 13th Amendment
After the elections, the government plans to resurrect the 13th Amendment; giving an assurance to the Indian government and others that the concurrent list will not be made operative—as it was in the late eighties—to take from one hand what is being given by the other.

But, the principal irritant in this exercise is the failure on the part of the Sri Lankan government to ensure the merger of the North and East, a demand made by all but a few Tamil groups like Karuna.

The chances are that the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) and the All Party Conference would come up with a package by the end of the year. This column previously mentioned that the APRC political package was likely to be unveiled by the President in New York at the General Assembly. But, the government has now realized that it might be better off holding its horses until the budget has been passed, and, until that time, continue the war with a ferocity that is greater but more tactical.
The reason being that, even in the event of an election forced upon itself, the government could cite its success story vis-à-vis its single-mindedness in the prosecution of the war that has brought results.

The government is also aware that, even if anything substantial came out of the APRC, a two thirds majority is needed to give effect to it. Implementing the 13th Amendment would not require support from the opposition.
It is likely that the government would use the example of the East to be showcased as a success story worth emulating by the North.

India to establish stronger presence
Meanwhile, a needs assessment survey has already been conducted for the East, taking place in 2003. And it is likely the government has received a commitment from the Indians to invest in this region, under an Indian Aid programme. This will ensure a greater presence for the Indians here in terms of India’s larger security concerns in the region. This is especially given that the Chinese have sealed a deal in Hambantota and Norichcholai in Sri Lanka, and, the Chinese, together with Burma and Pakistan form a worrisome triangle around India. Combined with this, there have also been suspicions that the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency) were previously operating in the East.

While the Indians are still averse to Sri Lanka getting its military supplies from Pakistan and China, they would not mind if the island nation were to approach Russia, and even Israel, in this post cold war era. While India could not give or sell anything other than non-lethal weapons, there is talk that subsidies could be granted provided the Chinese and Pakistanis are kept out of the picture.

The United States, too, has cast its presence in the Indian Ocean in a big way to check the military rise of China in the region. It also has a defence agreement with the Indian government, as well as the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement with Sri Lanka.

The attraction for oil from the Mannar basin is also continuing to attract the Americans to this region. The Indians and the Chinese have each being given a block for exploration. This government appears comfortable with anyone—Indians, Americans, Chinese or Pakistanis—as long as it gets their support to prosecute this war to a finish instead of leaving it to a next generation.

Leadership struggle in LTTE
LTTE Leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, however, appears keen on dragging the war on to the next generation. Hence, he is learned to have made clear his intentions of handing over the reins of leadership to his son, Charles Anthony. As a first step he is learned to have appointed his son a deputy leader, much to the chagrin of his senior leaders of the likes of Intelligence Wing leader, Pottu Amman, Political Wing Leader, S.P. Thamilselvan, and Sea Tiger Leader, Col. Soosai.

Reviewing a Singapore based think tank report on the leadership struggle in the LTTE, The Times of India had this to say:
“Tamil Nadu’s Dravidian leaders seem to have left an indelible mark on LTTE chief V Prabhakaran. So it comes as no surprise that dynastic politics is catching up within the LTTE too, with Prabhakaran eager to hand over the reins of the terror outfit to his son Charles Anthony Seelan, an aeronautical engineer.”

But there is growing discontent among top LTTE functionaries over Prabhakaran’s plan to anoint his 22-year-old son as his successor. Prabhakaran’s son returned from Ireland in 2006 after getting a degree in aeronautical engineering and currently heads the air wing and computer unit of LTTE.

However, the think tank weekly report was based on a news report in local newspapers many months back. Whether these reports are part of the military Psy-ops or are truly credible—given that South Asian leaders tend to trust their own kith and kin rather than those who have slogged for the party or organization—is left to be seen.

One thing is certain, however: If Prabhakaran hands over the leadership to his son, the respect the father had earned would be absent and, with it, the commitment from his followers. If that happens, the LTTE would fade into oblivion after more than three decades, during which time it has stamped its mark as the most powerful terrorist organization in the world.


Paramilitaries: Make them regulars

Extortion on the rise in Vavuniya and Trincomalee

Doctors and nurses at the Trincomalee General Hospital were poised to take trade union action, after they became the latest victims of extortion by cadres claiming to be from the ‘Karuna’ group.

A flat rate of Rs 500,000 was demanded and offices indicated where they could pay up. When staff members protested their inability to raise so much money, the extortionists had cited relatives living abroad. However, these cadres said the amount could be negotiated with higher-ups in the group, at the designated offices.

After the matter was brought to the notice of higher authorities, the strike was temporarily called off.
A similar pattern has been noticed in the Vavuniya District. However, the amount demanded was less. A sum of Rs 300,000 was demanded from individuals who had relatives abroad and Rs 100,000 from others. For those unable to pay upfront, an easy payment scheme was devised and Rs 20,000 was the monthly installment.

The cadres were allegedly identified as those from the PLOTE. The places already cleared include Kovikulam, Thonikel, Chidamparapuram, Veppankulam in the Vavuniya district. Islands in Jaffna too have been experiencing limited bouts of extortion, allegedly at the hands of EPDP cadres.

After this government came to power, extortion of Tamil civilians, at the hands of the LTTE, has greatly decreased. But, other groups have taken over the business of ‘cash in a flash’, mainly from Tamils.

Some civil leaders in the East, have wittingly observed that one Tiger has replaced another in the East. The LTTE no longer taxes and harass people with extortion but, its job has been taken over by other groups.
In the recent past, the extortion racket was mainly in Colombo and its suburbs, where affluent Tamil and Muslim businessmen were targeted.

It is no secret that Tamil paramilitary groups have been funded by successive governments, ever since war broke out with the LTTE. The process continued even during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNF government the peace process. Such payments were necessary to prevent paramilitaries from becoming a public nuisance.

Given the increasing trend towards extortion, some even question whether this government has stopped the practice of doling money to the paramilitaries. Others say that these cadres are in search of quick money, to flee the country.
It is also suspected that a few unscrupulous military men work hand in glove with these cadres, to make a quick buck in a militarized State.

It is important to investigate whether the spate of abductions for ransom, was a more organized racket. The authorities are yet to get at the bottom of the operation, even months after the arrest and probing of a former air force officer, following disclosures in Parliament by the chief Opposition UNP.

One way of resolving this issue of paramilitaries going berserk, is by absorbing them into the military.
The fact that the ‘Karuna’ group had assisted the army in the East, is no longer a secret. In Trincomalee, it is alleged that ‘Karuna’ cadres, in civvies, are operating from several offices during the day and patrolling in the night, in black kits.

It was likely that the assistance of the PLOTE cadres would be used in Vavuniya. Conversant with the terrain, language and given their ability to identify Tigers among civilians, and the intelligence reports they provide, paramilitaries have been sought after in the past. In some cases, special training had been afforded. Successive governments have retained the services of the paramilitaries.
If they were absorbed into the military, in the event of death, their families would be paid compensation. Also, very importantly, they would be more disciplined as required by the military. This government would then not have to carry unnecessary baggage, vis-à-vis the paramilitaries.

Having accepted that LTTE terrorism must be eradicated fully, and having affirmed that a political solution was the final answer to the ethnic problem, the government would stand to gain by having Tamils inducted into the military, which has virtually no Tamils.
The Government would not have to face the wrath of the international community and international human rights agencies, if there was greater discipline in the course of conducting the war initiated by the Tigers. The government is bent on continuing it to a finish.

So, why not enlist the paramilitaries under a command and make them responsible for their actions.
Human Rights abuses of Tamil civilians and NGO personnel have been mainly committed by paramilitaries working hand in glove with a negligible number of security force personnel. The three forces, which are quite disciplined, are unfairly painted with the same brush, as a few undesirable elements. Paramilitaries should be absorbed into the military and held answerable.
Previously, in terms of the CFA, paramilitaries had to be disarmed, making them sitting ducks for the LTTE pistol gangs. The way out is to arm them, but make them responsible, by enlisting them into the regular army or, as part of the volunteer force.


HRC discusses report and response on children and armed conflict

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday discussed the report (A/HRC/4/45) of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy. The report covered four countries - Congo, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Sudan.

On Sri Lanka, Ms. Coomaraswamy castigated both the LTTE and the Government.
She noted that the LTTE had not complied with its commitments regarding non recruitment and release of child soldiers, and there were credible reports of Sri Lankan military collusion in such practices, and that, humanitarian workers had been killed and non-governmental organizations threatened. Continuing violence exacerbated the plight of internally displaced children and humanitarian delivery.

As there were continuous reports of grave violations being committed against children, by parties in these countries, the report states that much remains to be done to ensure the protection of the rights of children.
To this end, a two-year strategic framework has been submitted to strengthen and consolidate the gains made in the past and to meet the new challenges in the period ahead.

The report outlined strategies that would be undertaken to ensure the institution of an “era of application” of international child protection standards and norms. The relevant Security Council resolution 1612 (2005) was adopted on July 26, 2005.
The report also recognized that the creation of the HRC, places HR on an equal footing with security and economic development, and that the Council would help end impunity for violating parties.

The report concluded that the United Nations HR system must continue to play a crucial role and actively support the protection of the Rights of war-affected children, on the ground. The report called for the HRC to support the monitoring and reporting mechanism for children and armed conflict in all situations of concern, and to make the five categories of grave violations against children, besides child soldiering, an integral part of the agenda of its future sessions.

Director Legal, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process, Shirani Goonatilleke, noted that Ms. Coomaraswamy’s report included findings of her Special Advisor, Alan Rock’s visit to Sri Lanka in November 2006.
She said Ms. Coomaraswamy highlighted, in particular, the Government’s adoption of zero tolerance, with regard to child recruitment, the commitment in relation to Security Council Resolution 1612, and action taken to set up a committee to investigate allegations of complicity against certain elements of the security forces, in the alleged abductions and recruitment of children by the LTTE breakaway group, the ‘Karuna’ faction.

In the same vein, Ms. Goonatilleke urged UN agencies to make clear that there would be zero tolerance of child recruitment. She said that the recent UNICEF claim that things have improved because the LTTE no longer recruited under 17s, but, what was termed “legislation”, was required to bring policy in line with international norms, is unacceptable.

Ms. Goonatilleke appealed to the Special Representative to ensure that the UN staff does not compromise on this issue.
She noted that this was the first time, the HRC focused on providing a comprehensive framework to address issues related to the protection of children affected by armed conflict, and rightfully placed high priority on the issue of child recruitment.

“One of the most serious aspects of Sri Lanka’s conflict, is the forced participation of children as soldiers. The Government is totally committed to eradicating this scourge and ensuring the protection of all children affected by the armed conflict,” said Ms. Goonatilleke.

The Council will tomorrow take up its agenda item on HR situations that require the Council’s attention and hold a general debate on the topic. When it met on Friday, in the general debate, delegations raised a number of issues, including new threats to children affected by armed conflicts.

It was suggested that the use of children in armed conflict, should be considered a war crime. Others urged that the international community should address the root causes of conflicts and all States should undertake a binding legal obligation to observe international humanitarian law. Some noted that child soldiers and children associated with fighting forces, should be specifically included in peace agreements.


Misrepresentations of Sri Lanka: A Briefing on Human Rights

Dr. Dayan Jayaytilleka chaired a presentation on the above subject on Thursday at the Palais des Nations. Other speakers seen at the head table are SCOPP Secretary General Professor Rajiva Wijesinha, SCOPP Director Legal, Ms. Shirani Goonetilleke and Deputy Solicitor General Shavindra Fernando