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Military Matters


 

Sri Lanka UNder siege

Sri Lanka’s recent human rights (HR) record will come up for review in New York at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting on Thursday (21) while the HR Council sessions in Geneva open on March 3.

When the delegation from Colombo visited Baticaloa yesterday, the officials there were tight-lipped on conscriptions last year but emphatically said there were no child abductions after January 1, 2008

Sri Lanka’s recent human rights (HR) record will come up for review in New York at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting on Thursday (21) while the HR Council sessions in Geneva open on March 3.

Attorney General C.R. De Silva, P.C., Justice Secretary Suhada Gamlath and Deputy Solicitor General (DSG) Yasantha Kodagoda will fly to New York this week to join Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United Nations Prasad Kariyawasam, as the government is taking the UNSC meeting seriously.

There are 15 members, including five with voting rights, and Sri Lanka has approached Russia, which has a permanent membership in the UNSC. It was only last week that news reports said that Russia could emerge as a major economic ally to Sri Lanka. In all probability, Ambassadors of a few other Security Council member states would also have been approached.

Rock’s allegations before UN
What will specifically come up at the UNSC meeting will be UN special advisor Alan Rock’s allegation that security forces were involved in assisting the Tamil Makkal Viduthalaip Puligal (TMVP) better known as the Karuna faction, in conscripting underaged children. Rock made these observations after a 10-day field trip to Sri Lanka as special advisor to Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary - General Kofi Annan, on Children in Armed Conflict. This week Coomaraswamy too, came down hard on the LTTE, on the question of child conscription.

Rock, who made these allegations following a visit to the east, however, failed to turn up credible evidence, despite a request from the government to do so. As there was no credible evidence forthcoming from the UN Representative barring the affidavits, HR Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe appointed a special committee more than a month back, to go into the matter.

The committee’s members visited Batticaloa yesterday, ahead of the UNSC meeting, on a fact-finding mission to ascertain any truth in the allegations made by Rock.

The team headed by Justice Secretary Suhada Gamlath, also included DSG Shavindra Fernando, DSG Yasantha Kodagoda, Director Legal of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) Shirani Gunatilleke, and two officers from the HR ministry Nishan Muthukrishna and Amerawardene. The team met the Government Agent, Batticaloa, eight to 10 Divisional Secretaries, child probation officers and other officials in a bid to find out whether there were any cases of child soldiers among the Karuna faction and whether the army supported in conscription. The officials in Baticaloa were tight-lipped on conscriptions last year but emphatically said there were no child abductions after January 1, 2008.

Cracks on Rocks
Minister Jeyeraj Fernandopulle and others who humiliated Rock, calling him a terrorist, would now have to eat humble pie, as the matter is scheduled to come up before the Security Council. Instead of these untoward remarks, what the government should have promptly done was to go into the allegations, ascertain their veracity and take punitive action, if there was complicity.
After clearing its name, the government would have been in a stronger position to take on Rock.

One thing is certain, unlike the LTTE, the government never recruited underaged soldiers into the military. So, all it had to do was to verify the Rock allegations then and there, and clear its name, as there was no credible evidence forthcoming on his part.

This ethnic conflict has seen passions running high and combatants lying and getting civilians to lie to foreign dignitaries, to paint a dismal picture of the other side. It could have been possible that Rock was misled by civilians, at the instigation of the LTTE, which was still operative in Batticaloa, during his visit.

Karuna spills more than beans
But, the government blundered in despatching Karuna to the UK. He is now in the custody of the British authorities, and UK is a permanent member of the Council. Karuna has already tried to implicate senior government officials of having issued him a diplomatic passport.

That Karuna is miffed with sections of the military, for sidelining him and allowing his deputy Pillayan to take over the leadership of the breakaway group, is well known. Will he further implicate the security forces and strengthen Rock’s case?

HR groups are insisting that Karuna be tried for war crimes as well. On the question of child soldiers, the danger is that he could be used as a witness against the Sri Lankan Government.

If Karuna, against whom there has been documentary proof of recruiting underaged soldiers, admits that the Army assisted his group in the conscription, the government would not have a leg to stand on.

HRW in black and white
The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), this week, reiterated that the other party, the LTTE was continuing to recruit and use underaged cadres. Was this an attempt by HRW to appear to be playing fair by all sides? The UN Security Council should impose sanctions against government and rebel forces that persist in using child soldiers, HRW said on Tuesday (12).
With the complicity or willful blindness of the Sri Lankan Government, the Karuna group has abducted and forcibly recruited hundreds of children in eastern Sri Lanka, HRW said in a report released January 24, 2007.

In the new 100-page report, “Complicit in Crime: State Collusion in Abductions and Child Recruitment by the Karuna Group,” HRW documents a pattern of abductions and forced recruitment by the Karuna group, over a long period. Through maps and photographs, it shows how Karuna cadres operate with impunity in government-controlled areas, abducting boys and young men, training them in camps, and deploying them for combat.  

Ahead of the Security Council taking up the issue of child soldiers, Sri Lanka’s UN Ambassador Kariyawasam in a statement said: “The Government of Sri Lanka reiterates its long held policy of zero tolerance towards the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict. The Government believes strongly in addressing issues of children and armed conflict pursuant to Resolution 1612.”

Kariyawasam called on the Security Council to consider this issue on the basis of supporting the establishment of security and consolidating peace in conflict afflicted societies, to enable States to protect their children from non-state actors who violate children with impunity.

Circling the wagons
In the end, the LTTE is in the dock and so is the Karuna Group. Much will depend on the findings in Batticaloa of the committee appointed by the HR Minister Samarasinghe, to salvage the government. The committee will have an uphill task, given that the HRW report has documentary evidence. But, any misrepresentation of the facts could be challenged by at least two members of the committee, who would head for New York, armed with evidence from the Batticaloa visit.

AG De Silva, who will return from New York, would then get ready to proceed to Geneva for the HR Council opening session. He will be part of the high level segment that would be headed by HR Minister Samarasinghe. Other members at this segment include Gamlath, Secretary General SCOPP Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe, DSG Fernando and former DIG CID Asoka Wijetilleke.

While Fernando will remain for the entire four-week long sessions that would see DSG Kodagoda and SCOPP Director Legal Gunatilleke join him in the second week, the rest of the segment would return to Colombo in the first week of March. Sri Lanka’s influential Ambassador in Geneva, Dayan Jayatilleke, will play a leading role. In a letter by a British citizen, Ben Silva, to President Mahinda Rajapksa, Jayatilleke was described as one of the best assets to beat the LTTE’s propaganda war.

Preventive measures
Back in September last year, Sri Lanka succeeded in ensuring that a resolution on the country at the HR Council Sessions, was dropped. However, country visits by top UN officials, could not be prevented. In most cases, requests made to visit the country were turned into invitations.

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, ended his weeklong visit to Sri Lanka on October 8. Nowak’s report would come up before the HR Council sessions in March and so would Representative of the Secretary-General on the HR of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), Dr. Walter Kälin’s, who visited Sri Lanka later in 2007.

On September 19, Kälin told the HR Council that, in order to ensure the full protection of the HR of IDPs, there should be a strong normative framework, political will, and the capacity to protect.

Louise harbors for ‘post’ here
UN High Commissioner for HR, Louise Arbour, after an official visit, left Sri Lanka on October 13, 2007, and requested that Sri Lanka become a signatory to the new International Convention for the Protection of All persons from Enforced Disappearances.
“In light of the documented violations of international humanitarian law, Sri Lanka should seriously consider joining the 105 countries which have ratified the Rome Treaty creating the International Criminal Court,” said Arbour, at a parting media conference.

Are there plans to haul Sri Lankans before this court, for violating international humanitarian law?

HR Minister plays dodge ball
Arbour pushed for a UNHR Office here, but the government vehemently disagreed to her proposal.
Subsequently, Minister Samarasinghe, who met her in Geneva, agreed to pursue a working arrangement, but that was not to be.
The latest on the issue is that Sri Lanka has verbally proposed a national institution for HR, with representation for the UN High Commissioner’s office in this facility. Arbour has said that, given the nature of the HR violations, what has been proposed was insufficient.

During her visit to Sri Lanka, Arbour warned that the 10-year-old local HR Commission, that it may lose its accreditation to the international body governing these institutions

Arbour has asked for a UN working mission on HR and a separate office for the High Commissioner.
The chances are that Minister Samarasinghe would discuss the matter in greater detail, on the sidelines of the sessions in Geneva.

Some of the key issues that the UNHRC in Geneva would take up are the current situation on HR, taking into consideration whether there has been an improvement in the HR record, consequent to the commitments made by the government, following the visits of Rock, John Holmes, Nowak, Kälin and Arbour. Just recently, There was a SLAF aerial bombing in Kilinochchi exactly 460 metres away from the UNDP, INICEF and Save the Children offices comprising five UN expatriate Staff and 60 locals. None of these personnel were injured though, but the experience was shattering.

IIGEP before HR council
The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) monitoring the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into 19 important HR cases, which had a running battle with the government, has already given notice that it would pull out in March. The treatment of the IIGEP and the fact it would pull out would also be discussed at the HR council. Some IIGEP members, however, have agreed to stay on in an unofficial capacity.

On March 3, on the eve of the opening of the HR Council sessions, at this end, the public inquiry of the cases handled by the CoI would commence at the BMICH. At these sessions, it would be discussed whether the CoI was satisfied with the investigations to date or, whether fresh investigations need to be ordered.

Minuses sans GSP+
While Sri Lanka succeeded in getting a resolution on the country, at the last sessions of the HR Council, dropped, given the support it received from many countries, the authorities did entertain fears of losing the GSP+ the following year.

As the European Union (EU) was pushing for such a restriction, based on HR groups pressing the case, Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollogama and Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohonna met with the EU Ambassador and the French Ambassador to stay such a drastic move. There was no firm commitment on the part of the Ambassadors, but a foreign ministry official said the meeting was very cordial. More than 100,000 people in the garment industry were likely to lose jobs, if the GSP + facility was revoked, it was pointed out. What the HR groups in Sri Lanka should realise is that, the loss of 100,000 jobs would mean that at least 500,000 people, including dependants, would be adversely affected by this move. While pressuring the government to uphold HR is important, what must be remembered is that the right to a decent living of so many other innocent citizens would be adversely affected, if the GSP + was withdrawn.

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Thallady attack: Church differs from Army

While Weli Oya and Mannar were in the spotlight, the FDLs in Jaffna were relatively calm this week, venturing some to suggest that this was the lull before the storm

Weli Oya and the Wanni continued to be the flashpoint of the Fourth Eelam War for another consecutive week.
Karunakaran, the LTTE leader of the “Passarai Base”, the Tiger stronghold north of Janakapura, was killed during a confrontation with the security forces in the Weli Oya area. Security forces that broke into the LTTE defence lines in Kiribbanwewa, and Janakapura, destroyed 18 bunkers, the military maintains.

According to reports, at least 13 LTTE cadres were killed and 21 wounded, while 10 soldiers were killed and 45 others wounded. The LTTE is concentrating on the Manal Aru or Weli Oya area, which is one of the Tiger main bastions ahead of the Mullaitivu heartland. A section of the security forces is confident that this area would fall soon.
As we said earlier the forces are now working in tandem and on

Friday, the LTTE’s Nizam Base in Weli Oya was targeted by the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) that has been destroying Tiger assets at regular intervals.
Reinforcements to the LTTE’s forward defence lines (FDL) are usually despatched from Nizam Base. The Vishvamadukulam area, where the LTTE base of the Radha Regiment-- that provides protection to LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran-- was also targeted by SLAF fighter jets on Thursday. The pilots confirmed hitting the targets precisely.
SLAF jets launched fresh air strikes yesterday (16) at an identified LTTE “operation center”, in south of Palampiddi, Mannar and pilots have confirmed that the LTTE facility was destroyed in the strike.

Earlier in the week, LTTE’s ‘Lt Gen.’ Jeyakanthan and three others were killed during a confrontation.
Snipers are reported to have gunned down more than 100 Tiger cadres in Mannar, which is tense after the killing of six soldiers at the St. Anthony’s shrine in Thallady, mistakenly referred to as St. Sebastian’s.

A section of the Army maintains that five priests had requested the soldiers to undertake a shramadana to clean up St. Anthony’s shrine, where there is no parish priest or residents in the vicinity. The priests deny such a request was made.

Whose word are we to accept?

The only way to sort out this issue, amicably, is for the senior Catholic clergy, preferably, the Bishop of Mannar Most. Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph or, the Vicar General Rt. Rev. Victor Soosai to meet with Senior Army officers, preferably the Wanni Security Forces Commander Maj. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya or, the 57 Brigade Commander, Brig. Jagath Dias, and discuss the issue.

What is of grave concern is that the hallowed precincts of the shrine was desecrated. The saving grace was, of course, the absence of the Blessed Sacrament. Church authorities have rightly condemned the LTTE action of directing artillery fire in the direction of the shrine. On a human level, the authorities have been saddened by the killing of combatants within the shrine, even though it has been abandoned. They have expressed their sympathies.

The Thallady army camp that was targeted on Tuesday (12), is right opposite the church, that is separated only by the road that has busses plying from Mannar to Medawachchiya and Vavuniya to Mannar.

The five priests led by Rev. Fr. S.K. Devarajah were heading to Vankalai for a deanery meeting and felt that they should speak to the Army officers to look into the possibility of arranging a Lenten pilgrimage from Mannar to St. Anthony’s shrine, a distance of five kms. The season of Lent is of 40-days duration, when Christians make Lenten sacrifices and pilgrimages, in the north and south alike.

“We stood in the portico of the church and spoke with the officers for about five minutes explaining to them that we wanted to have our Lenten pilgrimage to this Shrine during the Holy Season of Lent to pray for peace in our land,” said a press release signed by Rev. Fr. S.K. Dearajah and countersigned by Mannar Bishop Rayappu Joseph.

“The officers very kindly instructed me to submit the names of the participants. In our conversation we never requested ‘shramadana’ … the place was very clean and fit for the divine services,” said the release.

Sections in the army feel that the attack was launched a day after the priests dropped by at the Church and question the coincidence.

When the LTTE’s first artillery shells hit Thallady lagoon, the soldier in charge of the Multi-Barrel Launcher of the Thalady Military Base, immediately removed the weapon, foiling the LTTE’s target. The soldiers retaliated from a safer location.

Unknown to both sides, ever since the war broke out, church authorities have taken great pains to request the two sides to steer clear of church premises in the Mannar District. They have even been asking the two sides for a neutral zone in the vicinity of the Madhu Church and President Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, is aware of this request.

On Friday, unexploded artillery shells fell in the water tank area of Madhu, less than 500 metres from the church.
The Army believes it would be able to secure the Madhu area, which is about 50 to 60 acres around the church and used by pilgrims for camping. This area is a church reservation during feasts four times a year for two weeks, in terms of a 1982 Gazette notification that is implemented by the GA. Beyond this area is thick jungle.

The Army has been trying to wrest control of this area during the past year and is confident that it would be able to do so soon.
Meanwhile, the Infantry Regiment of 571 Brigade, under Col. Ravipriya, destroyed an operational centre at Mullikulam, killing seven LTTE cadres. They recovered several letters written by the disgruntled LTTE cadres to their parents, indicating a sad episode. The Director Media of the Military Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara circulated translated copies of the letter to the media.

“I am now at the rear ground if Mullikulam in Mannar. The area is always shelled. We run to bunkers for protection. When will I be able to get out of this hell?” read one letter by T.Genny.

“Appa, if you had known that I would leave you like this, you could have killed me, before I was born… Amma, what sin have I done?” read another letter.

While Mannar and Weli Oya were in the spotlight, the FDLs in Jaffna were relatively calm this week, venturing some to suggest that this was the lull before the storm.

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