Govt. positioning itself to finish war
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Paramilitaries: Make them regulars
Extortion on the rise in Vavuniya and
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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