Tag Archive for 'Tamil Tigers'
Gareth Evans in Project Syndicate:
Three years ago, in the bloody endgame of the Sri Lankan government’s war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, some 300,000 civilians became trapped between the advancing army and the last LTTE fighters in what has been called “the cage” – a tiny strip of land, not much larger than New York City’s Central Park, between sea and lagoon in the northeast of the country.
With both sides showing neither restraint nor compassion, at least 10,000 civilians – possibly as many as 40,000 – died in the carnage that followed, as a result of indiscriminate army shelling, rebel gunfire, and denial of food and medical supplies.
The lack of outrage mainly reflects the Sri Lankan government’s success in embedding in the minds of policymakers and publics an alternative narrative that had extraordinary worldwide resonance in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. What occurred in the cage, according to this narrative, was the long-overdue defeat, by wholly necessary and defensible means, of a murderous terrorist insurrection that had threatened the country’s very existence.
The other key reason behind the world’s silence is that the Sri Lankan government was relentless in banning independent observers – media, NGOs, or diplomats – from witnessing or reporting on its actions. And this problem was compounded by the timidity of in-country United Nations officials in communicating such information as they had. More:
In The Independent:
The short clip dates from the final hours of the bloody 26-year civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the secessionist rebels of the Tamil Tigers, the LTTE.
A 12-year-old boy lies on the ground. He is stripped to the waist and has five neat bullet holes in his chest. His name is Balachandran Prabakaran and he is the son of the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. He has been executed in cold blood. Beside him lie the bodies of five men, believed to be his bodyguards. There are strips of cloth on the ground indicating that they were tied and blindfolded before they were shot – further evidence suggesting that the Sri Lankan government forces had a systematic policy of executing many surrendering or captured LTTE fighters and leading figures, even if they were children.
The footage – dating from 18 May 2009 and which seems to have been shot as a grotesque “trophy video” by Sri Lankan forces – will be broadcast for the first time on Wednesday night in a Channel 4 film, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished – a sequel to the controversial investigation broadcast last year which accused both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government of war crimes and crimes against humanity. More:
About Jon Snow’s Channel 4 documentary, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, in The Guardian: Much of the footage, which documented the summary executions, rape, torture and bombing – all apparently sanctioned by the Sri Lankan government – of tens of thousands of Tamils in the last days of the civil war after the UN pulled out of the country in September 2008, was shocking. Soldiers filmed laughing on mobile phones while they shot bound prisoners in the back of the head. Civilian women lying dead on the ground, having been raped and mutilated by the government troops to whom they had tried to surrender. Hospitals being targeted.
At Channel 4: Documenting the final weeks of the bloody civil war when an estimated 40,000 people died, the Channel 4 documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields reveals shocking new evidence of serious war crimes. The film includes footage of government soldiers executing bound prisoners; the dead bodies of naked, abused women dumped in a truck; and the bombing of civilian hospitals.
Watch at Channel 4
And here’s the link to the report of the UN Secretary General’s panel of experts on accountability in Sri Lanka.
Michael Hardy in the American Scholar [via 3quarksdaily]:
On the morning of January 8, 2009, Lasantha Wickrematunge was driving to work in a suburb of the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo when his Toyota Corolla was blocked by four motorcycles. The masked riders smashed the car’s windows and dragged Lasantha into the street, where one of the assailants punched a hole in his skull with a captive bolt pistol, the kind used to slaughter livestock. According to eyewitnesses, the motorcyclists then sped off in the direction of a nearby military checkpoint, leaving Lasantha dead in the middle of a crowded intersection.
Lasantha was the editor of The Sunday Leader, an English-language weekly newspaper that he founded with his older brother Lal in 1994. Known for their muckraking investigations of corrupt politicians, the Wickrematunges were accustomed to harassment and violence: Lasantha had been shot at, beaten up, and had his home shelled by antitank ammunition; the government briefly shut the Leader down in 2000 for flouting censorship laws; in 2005, and again in 2007, arsonists burned down its printing press; and before his assassination, Lasantha received death threats for criticizing the government’s war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a Tamil separatist group that had been in revolt against the predominantly Sinhalese government since 1983.
Not wanting to endanger anyone else, Lasantha refused to hire a bodyguard. But he took the threats seriously enough to compose a letter, to be published in case he was killed, accusing the powerful Secretary of Defense Gotabaya Rajapaksa of ordering his murder. Rajapaksa had held a grudge against Lasantha since 2007, when the Leader accused the defense secretary of getting swindled on a series of arms deals. In 2008, he filed a one-billion-rupee ($9 million) defamation lawsuit against the Leader and won a court order prohibiting it from mentioning his name in print. Ironically, Lasantha was a one-time friend of the defense secretary’s brother, President Mahinda Rajapaksa. More:
In The Indian Express:
As Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa toured the UK, Britain’s Channel 4 aired stomach-churning footage of men in uniform alleged to be his soldiers executing naked, unarmed, tied-up and blindfolded men and women said to be members or sympathisers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The pro-LTTE Tamilnet website identified one of the women as Shoba alias Isaippiriya, a journalist. Channel 4 said the video was shot shortly before the final triumph of the Sri Lankan army over the Tigers in May 2009, and is an extended version of another video it aired last year.
The video, apparently shot with a cellphone camera — one of the frames has a soldier holding up a cellphone — shows naked prisoners with their hands tied behind their backs being shot from behind by soldiers with assault rifles. The killings take place in a field littered with naked, bloody corpses, some with their heads blown off. More:
From the New York Times news blog The Lede:
One year after Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, declared victory and hailed his military for ending a decades-long separatist rebellion by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a British news organization aired new accusations that the country’s soldiers committed war crimes during the war’s final months.
On Tuesday, Britain’s Channel 4 News presented what it said was testimony from two former members of Sri Lanka’s military who claim that the government ordered the execution of Tamil prisoners captured at the end of a separatist rebellion last year.
The two men, both said to be in hiding, were granted anonymity by Channel 4 News. While The Lede has not been able to independently verify the accusations made by the men — one a former commander, the other a front-line soldier — Channel 4 News has produced credible reports on apparent human rights violations in Sri Lanka in the past. More:
A new report finds that overseas Sri Lankans are determined to seek a separate homeland. From Asia Sentinel:
With the grim civil war that wracked Sri Lanka finally over after 26 years, and with the Tamil minority seeking to pick up their lives after their rebellion was crushed mercilessly, only one group appears determined to continue the fight, and that is a large portion of the hundreds of thousands of Tamils overseas.
As many as 100,000 people were killed in the civil war, out of a nation of 20.1 million. The Brussels-based International Crisis Group, an independent non-governmental organization, in a new 29-page report, “The Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora After the LTTE” issued on Feb.23, has strongly urged the diaspora to give it up and instead seek to create a sustainable piece in a united country.
Whether that is possible is in serious doubt. The triumphalist government of President Mahindra Rajapaksa, despite statements urging reconciliation, is showing little signs on the ground of actually bringing the Tamils back to full partnership in the government. Nonetheless, the report says, any initiatives to carry on the struggle for an independent state may go forward in the diaspora, “but they must repudiate the LTTE’s violent methods,” said Robert Templer, the ICG’S Asia Program Director in a prepared release. “And they must also recognize that the LTTE’s separatist agenda is out of step with the wishes and needs of Tamils in Sri Lanka.” More:
Barbara Crossette in The Nation:
In its 62 years of independence, Sri Lanka has never had a better chance than it has now to stamp out the last fires of ethnic hatred, violence and mindless chauvinisms that have left over 80,000 people dead in civil wars across one of the most physically beautiful countries in Asia.
Tragically for all Sri Lankans, it looks as if its increasingly autocratic president, reelected in January on a surge of Sinhala triumphalism following the defeat of a Tamil rebel army, is determined to let this hopeful moment pass. Not only a lasting peace between the Tamils and Sinhalese is at stake but also the multiparty democracy that set the country apart from many of its neighbors.
Why should a descent into misgovernment in a nation of 21.3 million people on a relatively small island off the coast of India matter to people anywhere else? This isn’t Zimbabwe or Bosnia or Haiti. Not yet. But it is one of the newest examples — streamed live on the Web if not much present in the American media — of a post colonial collapse. Kenya is another. It is a phenomenon worth study.
Sri Lanka was once the most advanced nation in South Asia by measures of human development. Literacy, education levels and social services are all still higher than in neighboring Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Nepal. The country has no external enemies. Women have held high office for decades. There was a lively press and a functioning two-party system, albeit dominated by mostly people drawn from elite families.
Now journalists live in fear, are killed, disappear or flee. More:
Andrew Buncombe in The Independent:
General Fonseka’s wife, Anoma, broke down in tears as she revealed how the authorities had still not informed her where her husband was being held, after military police bundled him away on Monday evening. She said she feared for his safety and called on the international community to work to free him.
Speaking by phone from Colombo, she said: “They have not told me where he is. I have tried to find out but could not. There are a lot of rumours: some say he is being held at the naval headquarters, some say he is at the army headquarters. Some say he is at an army camp. I cannot find out; nobody can go there.” More:
Ahilan Kadirgamar at Himal Southasian:
When I visited Jaffna recently, like all those returning home after years away I too sensed feelings of nostalgia welling up inside. This was my first visit in six years, and almost 25 since I had last lived in Jaffna, as an 11-year-old. The opening lines are by A E Manoharan, the Tamil pop star and baila singer who took Jaffna by storm in the 1970s – a time when, in my mind, Manoharan was more popular than the youthful leaders of the militant movements who would emerge soon enough. I have vague memories of going to an open-air Manoharan concert, sitting on the bicycle bar as one of my relatives rode us to where we could hear the loudspeakers. Incidentally, Manoharan composed “Ilangai enpathu”, with its reference to the palmyra fruit, two decades before rights activist Rajani Thiranagama and her colleagues would write The Broken Palmyra, for which she would be murdered.
By chance, a few weeks after my recent visit to Jaffna, I was sitting next to Manoharan himself on a flight from Madras to Colombo. The great singer was on his way to Jaffna for his first concert in the peninsula after the war, to celebrate Pongal. Manoharan, now 65 years old, like so many others returning home spoke of his anxiety at what Jaffna might look like – who would be left, who might have died, the suffering people have endured, what people might tell him, and what memories would return. During the flight, Manoharan spoke in eloquent, poetic language on a range of issues. He remembered how his first concert at the large Veerasingham Hall in Jaffna had been a flop, as only 60 people turned up. His manager cursed him, but, three months later he had the hall packed. As the plane jerked and landed, I asked him for a message that I could write about. In a sentimental tone, he replied, “Now I am going back to my land with happiness and peace of mind.” More:
Also at Himal Southasian: The Jaffna diaries by Ben Bavinck, a retired missionary who lived in Sri Lanka for more than 30 years and now lives in his native Netherlands:
17 August 1991, Jaffna. The next morning I went cycling to Vaddukoddai, Uduvil and Maruthanarmadam. Jaffna looked quiet. Everybody was cycling as usual. The Nallur Temple festival was just beginning.
I went to talk with a friend, Daya, who looked back on the Tiger attack on the Elephant Pass army camp. At the time, he said, the community in Jaffna had been in a state of psychosis: “A struggle till the bitter end has started.” Very young boys and girls, many just 10 years old, had joined the Tigers, Daya continued, and parents were now in a state of panic because their children had disappeared. Even schools and other institutions had been persuaded to participate in propaganda meetings for the Tigers, with the result being that schoolchildren, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides had been keeping the roads to the front clear as the fighting was taking place.
Andrew Buncombe meets Sarath Fonseka in Colombo. From The Independent:
The 59-year-old said surveys taken by his coalition ahead of the polls had suggested that he would win, and that even on election day, early results had suggested that he was more than 1.4 million votes ahead.
“There has been large-scale rigging – they are not stuffing ballots but they are doing computer manipulation,” he said. “You can see that the people did not expect this [result]. Normally when there is an election people celebrate for two or three days. You have seen it is very sombre on the streets. For the sake of the people’s aspirations we have to get the result cancelled.”
Outside, his dog, a noisy dalmatian, was locked inside a kennel because the member of his security detail who had overseen its daily walks had been relocated by the government.
Mr Fonseka, whose house has armed troops on watch nearby, repeated his claim that the government’s decision to withdraw his personal security detail was an indication it was planning to kill him. He said his name and a son-in-law’s had been placed on an immigration “blacklist” and that they would be unable to leave Sri Lanka. However a presidential spokesman said this was not the case, adding: “He is not on any list. He is free to leave the country.” More:
Andrew Buncombe from Colombo in The Independent:
If the outcome of Sri Lanka’s bitterly contested presidential election were decided solely by which candidate had the largest billboard, then incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa could sleep easily in his bed.
At the international airport near Colombo, a huge hoarding shows the president, dressed entirely in white, a beatific smile beaming across his face. His advisers believe that as voters go to the polls tomorrow, their best asset is the candidate himself, a man who oversaw the defeat of separatist rebels and ended a brutal 30-year civil war.
Indeed, less than a year ago, after government troops crushed the rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the authorities responded with a deluge of flag-waving celebrations that projected the president as something half-way between a God and a king, no one could have guessed that eight months later Mr Rajapaksa would be engaged in an ugly political dog-fight. And yet he is. More:
Andrew Buncombe in The Independent:
Seven months after Sri Lanka’s long and bitter civil war was brought to an end by a withering government assault, the political coalition that supported the Tamil Tigers has thrown its support behind the former army chief who crushed them.
In an ironic twist to the presidential election campaign being fought on the island, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) announced yesterday that it was supporting General Sarath Fonseka in his bid to defeat President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
At a press conference in the capital, Colombo, the leader of the TNA parliamentary group, Rajavarothayam Sambanthan, said his group had decided to support Mr Fonseka’s candidacy to prevent another victory by Mr Rajapaksa, whose poor record on human rights and law and order made it vital that he be beaten. More:
Robert Schroeder in the Wall Street Journal:
The temple, the city’s star architectural attraction, takes its name from the relic it houses: a tooth of the Buddha, kept in a stupa-shaped gold casket. Crowds of Sri Lankan devotees jostle past, carrying offerings of jasmine, lilies or lotus flowers. The tooth is also the focus of Kandy’s famed perahera, or procession, held for 10 days in the month of Esala (which runs from July into August). The perahera features Kandyan dancing and drumming, and this year drew about 500,000 people on its final day — more than in previous years.
The dates of next year’s Esala Perahera haven’t been set. But there is ample opportunity to hear Kandyan drumming and watch local dance — Kandyan dancers and drummers are some of Sri Lanka’s emblematic symbols — at any time. At the Kandyan Art Association and Cultural Center, a quick walk from the tooth temple on the lake’s northeast shore, the sound of a conch shell welcomes visitors to a show. Bare-chested men emerge in blue- and red-fringed white sarongs, with diamond-shaped headgear, beating geta bera with their hands. Women dancers pay graceful tribute to guardian deities and to their gurus. Before the evening is over, the dancers will enact the taming of a cobra and move like peacocks. More:
From the Wall Street Journal:
A group of victims of terror attacks by Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers rebels filed suit against Raj Rajaratnam, the Galleon Group hedge-fund founder charged in an insider-trading case, accusing him of funding the Tigers’”crimes against humanity.”
The suit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in New Jersey by 30 people who say they are survivors of attacks carried out by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam during decades of civil war against the Sri Lankan government.
The lawsuit alleges that from 2000 to 2007, Mr. Rajaratnam and a family foundation led by Mr. Rajaratnam’s father gave more than $5 million to a U.S. charity, called the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, that the U.S. government subsequently declared in 2007 to be a fund-raising front for the Tamil Tigers. More:
Previously in AW: Desi vs. Desi
Illegal insider trading: A reflection of character
Recent news of the illegal insider trading charges against Raj Rajaratnam of the hedge fund Galleon Group and five others, the biggest such case in decades, has spawned its own round of jokes on Wall Street. Who are the most sought-after professionals in finance these days? Answer: Electricians, who are experts at figuring out if cell phones, landlines or offices have been bugged by the FBI. And what is the most popular spot in New York City? Answer: The area under the Brooklyn Bridge, where in the 1980s Ivan Boesky, the last big financial executive to be convicted of illegal insider trading, was said to exchange non public material information about stocks the old fashioned way — directly in person. More:
Gethin Chamberlain in the Guardian:
The young mother was standing by the side of the road, clutching her baby. The baby was dead.
Damilvany Gnanakumar watched as she tried to make a decision. Around them, thousands of people were picking their way between bodies strewn across the road, desperate to escape the fighting all around them.
“The mother couldn’t bring the dead body and she doesn’t want to leave it as well. She was standing … holding the baby. She didn’t know what to do … At the end, because of the shell bombing and people rushing – there were thousands and thousands of people, they were rushing in and pushing everyone – she just had to leave the baby at the side of the road, she had to leave the body there and come, she had no choice. And I was thinking in my mind ‘What have the people done wrong? Why are they going through this, why is the international government not speaking up for them? I’m still asking.”
Four months later and Gnanakumar is sitting on a cream leather sofa in the living room of the family home in Chingford, Essex, reliving the final days of Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war.
For most of those four months, the 25-year-old British graduate was imprisoned behind razor wire inside the country’s grim internment camps, home to nearly 300,000 people. She was released last week, partly as a result of pressure from this newspaper, and flew back into London on Sunday. More:
Andrew Buncombe in the Independent:
A Sri Lankan reporter, recently named by US President Barack Obama as an example of the way journalists are persecuted around the world, has been sentenced to 20 years in jail for writing articles critical of the government’s military operations.
In a case that campaigners say highlights a campaign of intimidation against the country’s independent media, JS Tissainayagam was jailed after a court decided he had breached harsh anti-terror laws. He is the first journalist to be convicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
Mr Tissainayagam, an experienced columnist who wrote for several publications including the now defunct Northeastern Monthly magazine, had written several articles in 2006 and 2007 in which he accused the government of withholding food and other essentials from Tamil-majority areas as a weapon of war. The court decided that his articles broke the law because they were designed to create agitation between the Tamil minority and the Sinhala majority. “The constitution guarantees media freedom, but no one has a right to deliberately publish false reports that would lead to communal violence,” said the government prosecutor Sudarshana de Silva. More:
Also from the Independent:
The year was 1989. A violent youth insurrection that had terrorised the Sri Lankan populace was being brutally quelled by the state establishment. Bodies were burned on rubber tyres and the charred remains were left on every street corner. Hundreds of corpses were polluting the major rivers of the island’s south-west. Disappearances, arbitrary detention and revenge killings were the order of the day. With a government at the zenith of its power determined to crush the insurgency through force, leaving a trail of innocent victims in its wake, a young Sri Lankan opposition parliamentarian from the rural south decided to take a stand against the country’s deteriorating human rights situation and the state terror being unleashed upon his fellow citizens.
Travelling to Switzerland without a penny in his pocket and on an air ticket purchased for him by a friend, the young politician entered the building of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) in Geneva and parked himself in the lobby. Over several days, he waylaid every delegation passing through those halls, using each opportunity to tell members of the world community about the tragedy that was unfolding in Sri Lanka. So eager and relentless was the young man that he was finally given a special meeting at the UNCHR to present his case. Back in Sri Lanka he organised anti-government campaigns and founded organisations that looked into disappearances. He was, if anything, the face of the agitation campaign against the regime of the day, the street fighter determined to secure the rights of the oppressed and release them from the brutal grip of state terror.
That man is now Sri Lanka’s fifth executive President, elected to office in 2005 and credited with having achieved the impossible by defeating the world’s most ruthless terrorist organisation that was fighting for a separate homeland in the island’s north-east. With his government being accused of gross human rights violations and heavy-handed tactics in the name of quashing terrorism, the President calls rights campaigners ‘traitors’ if they are Sri Lankans and ‘terrorists’ or ‘terrorist agents’ if they happen to be foreigners. And so, beyond the signature moustache and the shawl he still wears around his neck, there is no resemblance between the starry-eyed Mahinda Rajapaksa from Hambantota, fighting for the rights of his citizens in Geneva and the corpulent, shrewd politician occupying the premier seat of power in Sri Lanka today. More:
Andrew Buncombe in the Independent:
The naked man, his hands bound behind his back, is pushed to the ground. Then a man in military uniform delivers a forceful kick to the back of the prisoner’s head with the heel of his boot. As the prisoner slumps forward, another soldier points his automatic weapon and fires a single shot. The man’s body jolts. “It’s like he jumped,” laughs one of the giggling soldiers.
As gunfire rattles, the camera pans left to reveal a further seven bloodstained bodies, all handcuffed and bound, and – with one exception – similarly naked, strewn on the ground. The camera then pans right again, as another naked man is forced to the ground and shot in the back of the head. This time the body falls backwards.
These scenes, captured on video, allegedly show extra-judicial killings of Tamils by Sri Lankan troops earlier this year in the bitter and bloody endgame of the country’s civil war. As government forces made a decisive thrust into the stronghold of rebel forces to end the decades-long conflict, a Sri Lankan soldier apparently took this footage, which was then smuggled out of the country by activists. It may constitute the first hard evidence for those who believe war crimes were committed in the effort to crush the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The significance of this footage – particularly shocking for the seemingly casual way in which the killings were carried out – is even greater given the way that journalists and independent observers were prevented by the government from reaching the war zone. The UN has estimated that 10,000 civilians were killed in what was, in effect, a war with no outside witnesses. More:
Robert D. Kaplan in The Atlantic:
I had always wanted to go to Kandy, for no other reason than that I was in love with the name: so airy, fanciful, and obviously suggestive of sweet things. I first found Kandy on a map of what was then called Ceylon, decades ago as a young man. Little did I know that it would one day have urgent revelations for me, more dark and poignant than sweet.
My journey began at Colombo’s crumbling train station, with its white facade like a cake about to melt. The first-class ticket cost a little more than $3 for the three-hour journey from Sri Lanka’s steamy Indian Ocean capital, through deep forest, to an altitude of 1,650 feet. The rusted railway car rattled and groaned its way uphill. Soon banana leaves were slapping against the train as we entered a relentless tangle of greenery.
The forest thickened with the crazy chaos of dark hardwood foliage. Vines choked every tree. The torrential rain of the southwest monsoon invigorated the pageant, shrieking and beating against the leaves as sheets of mist moved across the jungle. Then came swollen brown rivers, with water buffalo half sunk in mud near the pottery-red banks. Here and there the forest would break to reveal a shiny, rectilinear carpet of paddy fields, only to close in again, denser than before. I saw scrap-iron hutments and tiled rooftops the color of autumn leaves, and smoky blue hillsides creased by waterfalls and half-eaten by gray monsoon clouds. Other breaks in the forest revealed the occasional bell-shaped Buddhist dagoba, or stupa, with its soaring-to-heaven whiteness against the otherwise fungal-green tableau. As we drew near to Kandy, we passed through several narrow tunnels. In the pitch black, the creak of the train reverberated against the rock walls. More:
From the National:
Ambepussa, Sri Lanka: Suresh has a sweet face and gentle manner. His skinny body and the downy fuzz on his upper lip mark him out as boy who is still a couple of years away from becoming a man.
But in January, that transformation was brutally accelerated.
As fighting between Sri Lanka’s army and the Tamil Tigers intensified in what would turn out to be the final stages of a 26-year-long civil war, the rebels once again turned to a demographic they have long exploited to replenish their ranks: children
At the time, Suresh was 15. Despite the escalating war, he was attending school and dreamt of one day becoming a teacher.
All that was to change, however, when his family took the decision to flee their village near the northern city of Killinochchi and to make for the government-controlled areas to the south.
At a chaotic roadblock, Suresh became separated from his family and as he waited to get through, the Tigers abducted him, he said.
“They told me they would kill my family if I didn’t stay and fight with them,” Suresh said, speaking in the Ambepussa rehabilitation camp. More:
Shekhar Gupta walks the talk on Prabhakaran, the war with the LTTE and the way forward with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in The Indian Express:
MR: My pleasure
Welcome to Walk the Talk and very different circumstances from our last conversation.
MR: Quite. Yes, because when you came last time, I think it was about two years…two years ago.
SG: Less than, Less than one-and-a-half years ago.
MR: Less than one-and-a-half years ago.
SG: and I will tell you why I say one-and-a-half years.
MR: Yes, then of course we were not a, I would say a, united…unitary country now it its because earlier, when you came last time, North was…North and East I think was controlled by the LTTE terrorist. Now, we are free of terrorism.
SG: You said you are a unitary country, but a federal unitary country I hope.Because last time in fact, when we had a conversation you said that in one-and-a-half years you said there will be peace and there will be no LTTE.
SG: I said in one-and-a-half years, I reminded you, because it is still two months to one-and-a-half years.
SG: That situation has come about even faster than you had…even you had imagined.
MR: That’s right. Yes, because of our…armed forces were so committed for the fight.
SG: Tell us a little bit about the final phases of the battle.
SG: How did it progress? What happened? When did the breakthrough come?
MR: No, from the time after we walked into Madhu , that is the, North-West of the…
MR: Island. We were stuck there for about eight to nine months. Then we… it was a, just a, walk-over, I would say. But we knew after we went to Killinochi, I mean, we were, you know, through.
SG: what is the biggest mistake that Prabhakaran made in this.
MR: Well, to kill Rajiv Gandhi.
SG: To kill Rajiv Gandhi.
MR: That was…
Catherine Philp from Colombo in the Times, UK:
More than 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final throes of the Sri Lankan civil war, most as a result of government shelling, an investigation by The Times has revealed.
The number of casualties is three times the official figure.
The Sri Lankan authorities have insisted that their forces stopped using heavy weapons on April 27 and observed the no-fire zone where 100,000 Tamil men, women and children were sheltering. They have blamed all civilian casualties on Tamil Tiger rebels concealed among the civilians. More:
[Visit the Times page for the photographs.]
Also read Emily Wax report in the Washington Post:
The strip of beach where tens of thousands of civilians huddled during the Sri Lankan military’s decisive assault against the Tamil Tiger rebels this month shows clear signs of heavy artillery shelling, according to a helicopter inspection of the site by independent journalists, interviews with eyewitnesses, and specialists who have studied high-resolution satellite imagery from the war zone.
That evidence contradicts government assertions that areas of heavy civilian populations were no-fire zones that were deliberately spared during the final weeks of military assault that ended this island nation’s quarter-century of civil war.
“We see a lot of images of destroyed structures and what look like circular shell craters and also, frankly, very large holes in the ground. If it was a shell, it must be a very large one to make 24-feet-wide craters,” said Lars Bromley, director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights project, which was asked by human rights groups to study the satellite images. More:
Catherine Philp and Michael Evans in the Times:
On Wednesday evening the Sri Lankan delegation at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva was celebrating after its victory in fending off an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by its army.
Sri Lanka’s Government has consistently denied killing civilians in the battle to wipe out the Tamil Tigers and blamed the rebels for any deaths. It hailed the vote by the council as a vindication of its action.
An investigation by The Times into Sri Lanka’s civilian casualties, however – which was conducted in a week-long visit to Sri Lanka – has found evidence of a civilian death toll of 20,000, almost three times that cited previously. The majority perished under government guns. More:
A reporter’s story
Catherine Philp in the Times:
It was four years since I had been to Sri Lanka and everything had changed. The shaky ceasefire, which was collapsing even then, had imploded with an all-out military offensive to drive out the Tamil Tigers.
At a distance I was not necessarily opposed. In five years of covering South Asia I had travelled several times to “Tigerland” and was in no doubt of the rebels’ capacity for brutality. More:
From the New York Times news blog, The Lede:
The English newspaper’s estimate, which it said was based on an analysis of “aerial photographs, official documents, witness accounts and expert testimony,” relied in part on an anonymous United Nations source and what the paper called “confidential United Nations documents.” But Sri Lankan officials heaped scorn on the report and U.N. officials told The New York Times, The Guardian and The BBC that they have no good estimate of the number of civilians killed in the final weeks of fighting and questioned the methodology.
On The Times of London Web site, the newspaper’s foreign editor, Richard Beeston, narrates a video analysis of aerial photographs of the beach where Tamil Tiger separatists made their last stand, surrounded by thousands of civilians. The photographs appear to have been taken after the fighting ceased, and The Times says that they show evidence of shelling and of a large number of graves for both militants and civilians. More:
From the Economist:
THE body of the young man lay on a scarlet bier. He was in his colonel’s uniform and beret, with white gloves that made his hands seem enormous beside his emaciated body. His face was set in a rictus of death that was somewhat like a smile. But the portly, mustachioed man who stood looking at him, in a short-sleeved white shirt and blue trousers, hands clasped awkwardly in front of him, was not smiling.
Velupillai Prabhakaran always said this was the moment, four years into the war in September 1987, when he gave up any faith in non-violence. The young man before him, Thileepan, had fasted to death to highlight the plight of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority and their demands for independence. The Sinhalese majority had paid no attention. So Prabhakaran pledged himself and his Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to a path of unremitting carnage. More:
As the Sri Lankan army closed in, rebels made a desperate plea to a Sunday Times correspondent to help stave off annihilation:
IT was a desperate last phone call but it did not sound like a man who would be dead within hours. Balasingham Nadesan, political leader of the Tamil Tigers, had nowhere to turn, it seemed.
“We are putting down our arms,” he told me late last Sunday night by satellite phone from the tiny slip of jungle and beach on the northeast coast of Sri Lanka where the Tigers had been making their last stand.
I could hear machinegun fire in the background as he continued coolly: “We are looking for a guarantee of security from the Obama administration and the British government. Is there a guarantee of security?”
He was well aware that surrendering to the victorious Sri Lankan army would be the most dangerous moment in the 26-year civil war between the Tigers and Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority. More:
From the Independent:
Sri Lanka’s former war zone is a wasteland, its earth scorched and pocked by craters. Cars and trucks lie overturned near bunkers beside clusters of battered tents.
The government has denied firing heavy weapons into what had been a battlefield densely populated with civilians. But the helicopter tour the military gave the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a group of journalists yesterday revealed widespread devastation.
The sandy coastal strip where the final battles of the 25-year civil war were fought was dotted with patches of charred earth and dark craters were visible amid the greyish earth. One area was thick with endless rows of tents, many flattened and damaged. Abandoned vehicles were overturned, some reduced to burnt skeletons. Some huts with thatched roofs were destroyed, others had no roofs at all.
After touring the area, Mr Ban said the trapped civilians must have undergone “most inhumane suffering”. More:
Jerome Taylor at the Independent:
Tamils have been emailing pictures to each other which purportedly show Vellupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Tamil Tigers, alive and safe.
The picture (right) had him reading a Tamil paper and watching the news of his reported death.
Well here is the original pic (left) which (I think) shows him meeting Anton Balasingham, the LTTE’s chief negotiator who really did die in 2006. More:
Andrew Buncombe in the Independent:
I don’t know who Gomin Dayasri is, or whether he even exists, but there’s a remarkable piece of writing under his byline posted on the website of the Sri Lankan defence ministry. I recommend that readers should look at his piece in its entirety and not rely on what I say, for it needs to be read in full. According to Mr Dayasri, us foreign correspondents in Sri Lanka are having a hell of a time being wined and dined, while “the girls in the NGO circuit provide the information and entertainment”. He says that the journalists who come here want the war to carry on so that we continue to get the assignment and to indulge in the “fun around-sun and surf, safaris and misty mountains within easy reach” (sic). He then says there is no danger here apart from the “cancellation of the visa and a deportation order”, which is actually quite a telling remark. I cannot help thinking that Mr Dayasri, or whoever he is, may be a little jealous of us foreign reporters. But I can perhaps put his worries at ease. Not once during my first visit to Sri Lanka last month or on my current visit has anyone bought me as much as a cup of tea. As for the entertainment provided by the NGO girls, I’ve clearly yet to receive that invitation. More:
And below, the piece headlined “Foreign Correspondent” by Gomin Dayasri on the Sri Lanka defence ministry website:
It’s a stopover in paradise for a Foreign Correspondent to live majestically on his overseas allowance. Such comfortable digs are not in the market in the recession stung home country. There is exotic food and groovy watering holes at affordable prices. NGOs’ provide the freebies and rolls the red carpet.
Evenings may be dull but there is fun around-sun and surf, safaris and misty mountains within easy reach. Surroundings are ideal to prop a savings account for a rainy day. It’s an earn to save assignment; where on most days the drink and dinner is free with invitations galore. Many sophisticated hostesses desire to declare that they call the local BBC /CNN man by the first name. They pass unquoted quotes, to display their importance.
It’s a comfortable station to report a war with no hazard to life or limb-the possible menace being the cancellation of the visa and a deportation order. Foreign correspondents live in Iraq or Afghanistan, Sudan or Somalia with death beckoning.
English is understood by those who matter and the girls in the NGO circuit provide the information and entertainment. News is at the door step with LTTE agents in attendance. Cultivation of news sources is not a requirement as there is a free flow. More:
Somini Sengupta in the New York Times:
The Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, on Tuesday savored a victory that had eluded every Sri Lankan head of state before him: he declared on television that after more than 25 years, his troops had defeated one of the world’s most enduring guerrilla armies on the battlefield.
Behind that victory speech was a historic and bloody family triumph, guided by two of the president’s brothers: Gotabaya, the influential secretary of defense, and Basil, a so-called special adviser who devised the political strategy around the war effort.
Together, the brothers Rajapaksa defied international pressure to stanch civilian casualties, squelched dissent, blocked independent reporting of the war and achieved what many had thought all but impossible: they vanquished the Tamil Tigers, who had waged a pitiless war of terror and once ruled swaths of Sri Lankan territory as a de facto state. More:
Tiger by the tail
James Ross, legal and policy director at Human Rights Watch, in the New York Times:
Unfortunately, the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa treated the Tigers’ atrocities as a license for its own abuses. Instead of taking the high ground – morally, politically, and militarily – Rajapaksa used the war to solidify his support among ultra-nationalist Sinhalese. The government appears to view all Tamils as presumptive Tiger supporters and has locked up in camps all who have fled the fighting but the elderly – now some 300,000 people. Sri Lankan army forces indiscriminately shelled and starved the Tamil civilians trapped by the Tigers, causing several thousand civilian deaths and massive suffering. And in its plans for the future, the administration has favored Tamil leaders with poor rights records and given short shrift to the Tamil population’s legitimate political concerns. More:
In the Independent, Peter Popham on Velupillai Prabhakaran, chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE):
But “thambi”, “little brother” as he was known to his supporters (he was the youngest of four brothers), was taking no chances. He was not going to set foot outside the jungle for our benefit: we would have to find our way to him. And to minimise the chances of his being killed by a suicide bomb, the terrorist device he had invented and used to kill two South Asian heads of state and hundreds of other people, the security was meticulous. We were ordered to arrive in Kilinochchi, the rebel-held town closest to his hideout, a full 24 hours before the event. No indication was given of when the great man might show up. After hanging around in sticky heat for half a day, finally vans arrived to ferry us to the venue, a tin-roofed hall open to the jungle in the LTTE’s Political Academy deep in the jungle. We were obliged to leave anything that might contain a nasty surprise, including satellite dishes, computer bags and even wallets, back at base. Ears, mouths and socks had all been minutely inspected.
More hours of waiting ensued in the sticky monsoon heat of evening – then suddenly he was among us, short, tubby, looking younger than his 47 years, dressed as usual in green combat fatigues, pounding up on to the stage closely hemmed in by muscular young bodyguards, all wearing sunglasses. Someone in Mr Prabhakaran’s camp had been watching too many videos. More:
Prabakaran had everything: territory, international support and committed fighters. In Tehelka Senior journalist Shyam Tekwani, who has covered the LTTE and Sri Lanka for almost three decades tracks the alarming rise and astonishing fall of a man who sought to live to fight another day, but found only death at the hands of his nemesis.
MORE VIVIDLY THAN anything that came afterwards in the Sri Lanka war, I remember his first handshake. The hand was soft, the grip delicate and limp. On that occasion in Madras, as he contentedly claimed credit for assassinating the Tamil Mayor of Jaffna and later, the slaughter of 13 Sri Lankan soldiers that ignited the conflict following the anti-Tamil riots of 1983, Velupillai Prabakaran’s dainty handshake seemed in harmony with his soft voice. more
Sri Lanka declares an end to the 25-year war with the Tamil Tigers and says LTTE chief V. Prabhakaran was shot dead while trying to flee the war zone. The Sri Lankan army also claims to have killed Pottu Amman, the rebels’ intelligence chief and Soosai, the head of the rebels’ navy wing. Read the report in The Guardian here.
Associated Press has a timeline of the long conflict in Sri Lanka here.