Eelam conflict: In memory of fallen combatants



Prabhakaran, 54, at ‘Lieutenant’ Shankar commemoration on Nov 27, 2008 at an undisclosed location in the Vanni east. It was the last such event before the Army brought the war to a successful conclusion six months later (pic courtesy Tamilnet)

Sri Lanka’s economy is in shambles. The recent Supreme Court ruling set the record straight though silly attempts are being made to divert public attention. Regardless of the continuing economic crisis despite going to the IMF on the advice of pundits, the government and the Opposition should at the same time pay close attention to unresolved accountability issues as Lankan Tamil Diaspora with the subtle backing of the West will step up pressure with an eye on the outcome of the next Geneva session early next year. Perhaps, they should be reminded that Tamils here cleared the military by overwhelmingly voting for Fonseka at the 2010 presidential poll though he lost the contest by a staggering 1.8 mn votes.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Fifteen years after the successful conclusion of the war against separatist terrorism, Sri Lanka is still embroiled in a simmering controversy over how to remember fallen members of the armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), despite the latter resorting to raw terror tactics virtually throughout the conflict, especially with the wide use of brainwashed suicide cadres to mount senseless attacks in pursuit of their dream.

Recently retired IGP C.D. Wickremeratne, who had received three extensions in spite of the steadfast refusal of the Constitutional Council to endorse President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s repeated recommendation to grant him extensions and the Director of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) last Friday (24) assured the Court of Appeal that action would be taken in terms of the Criminal Procedure Code against LTTE supporters who celebrated what they called ‘Great Heroes Day’ (Maveerar Naal). But events were underway in the North regardless of previous rulings issued by courts over there against such commemorations.

The assurance was given by Senior State Counsel Shaminda Wickrema, on behalf of the IGP and the Attorney General, in respect of a petition filed by a retired Warrant Officer of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI).

Maveerar Naal events are celebrated both here and abroad with the participation of politicians even after the LTTE’s total military defeat.

Fallen members of the Indian military, too, are remembered in annual events at Palaly, in the Jaffna peninsula, though there hadn’t been memorial events whatsoever for members of other Tamil groups killed during the conflict. Some of them died while fighting for the Tamil National Army (TNA) formed by New Delhi ahead of the withdrawal of the so-called Indian Peace Keeping Force from the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka after they were asked to leave unceremoniously by the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa.

Event in London

Front organizations of the LTTE on Nov 27, 2008 celebrated their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s (VP) birthday in London while a relentless combined security forces offensive against the group was underway in the Vanni east.

Fifty-four-year-old VP had been in command of sufficient fighting cadre to sustain offensive action, though the area under his control was shrinking rapidly on the Vanni east front. By then, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s Army had taken the upper hand and was gradually advancing on the enemy held territory in one-time LTTE bastion Mullaitivu, under his personal supervision, as he directly gave fighting orders to his individual field commanders, down to the rank of lieutenant colonel, from Colombo using CDMA phones almost on a daily basis.

With the capturing of Pooneryn on Nov 15, 2008 – 12 days before VP’s birthday, the Army turned eastwards and Paranthan was regained on January 01, 2009, Kilinochchi on January 02 and Elephant Pass on January 09. That brought the entire Vanni west back under military control.

Regardless of the LTTE being in a much disadvantaged position by late 2008, Diaspora Tamils still felt confident that the group could still turn around the situation, as they had done on countless occasions previously, hence the celebration in London, where the LTTE operated its so-called International Secretariat years ago even after they had assassinated former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi as he campaigned in Tamil Nadu in May 1991.

Three weeks after the London celebrations, Canada-based columnist D.B.S. Jeyaraj claimed that the LTTE had the wherewithal to defeat the Army on the Vanni front. Close on the heels of DBS’s declaration, the LTTE suffered successive battlefield defeats and four months after the London celebrations, the LTTE received an unprecedented reversal at Anandapuram, Mullaithivu. The five-day Anandapuram battle (March 31-April 04, 2009) sealed the fate of the group, once considered invincible. Over 600 LTTE cadres, the majority from its elite units, along with senior commanders, were killed. Hundreds of others suffered injuries.

Let us discuss the situation then and the developments against the backdrop of wartime Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama (January 2007 to April 2010) recently assuming responsibilities as our High Commissioner in London.

The Sri Lankan mission in London failed, in 2008, to thwart Prabhakaran’s birthday celebrations in spite of the then High Commissioner, retired Supreme Court Justice Nihal Jayasinghe (May 2008-Dec 2010) efforts to prevent the event. Jayasinghe succeeded top career diplomat Kshenuka Senewiratne, as our next High Commissioner designate in New Delhi.

On the instructions of the then Foreign Minister Bogollagama, the mission in London unsuccessfully asked for the UK’s intervention to stop it. But, Diaspora Tamils were allowed to organize a public event at ExCeL London, 1, Western Gateway, Royal Victoria Dock, London E16 1XL. The UK permitted the event in spite of the LTTE being a proscribed terrorist organization under the UK Terrorism Act. That is how London fights terrorism with their double standards as can be clearly seen from what is happening in Gaza now.

Five months later, Prabhakaran was dead. On May 19, 2009, a pro-LTTE website denied the death. “I wish to inform the global Tamil community distressed witnessing the final events of the war that our beloved leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran is alive and safe”, tamilnet.com quoted LTTE Selvarajah Pathmanathan aka KP as having said. A few months later KP ended up in Sri Lankan custody, thanks to Malaysia.

Reappraisal of strategy necessary

The government shouldn’t interfere with Maveerar Naal commemorative events held in honour of the fallen members of the LTTE though originally it was meant to remember the first cadre to die in Tamil Nadu on Nov 27, 1982 following a confrontation with Sri Lanka Army. Sathiyanathan alias Shankar also known as Suresh was his name. The LTTE had moved the wounded Shankar across the sea to Tamil Nadu for treatment.

Later the LTTE combined its leader’s birthday with Maveerar Naal to declare a week of ‘celebrations’ and commemorative events. It was part of their strategy meant to attract public attention, whip up the fighting spirit of its cadres and also win international recognition. VP used to declare his policy speech on his birthday on Nov 26. Since the death of VP in May 2009, the event has lost much of its significance and today bankrupt politicians sought to take advantage of these events.

The government and the Opposition should reach a consensus on the issue at hand to prevent those who supported and tolerated terrorism from exploiting the gullible Tamil population. Why should organizers of politically-motivated Maveerar Naal events be allowed to exploit the deaths of fallen LTTE cadres? Both politicians and law enforcement authorities should realize that unnecessary interference in Maveerar Naal events would be counterproductive and only facilitate Diaspora propaganda. Let them recollect the failed murderous Eelam project and how well over 200,000 civilians were held hostage as a human shield by the LTTE for its survival when it was well and truly cornered. Even the much maligned Hamas that has been ruling the West Bank after being democratically elected has done no such thing though they continue to be vilified by the West, while forgetting the fact that Israel kept the Palestinian territories like open concentration camps as pointed out by many independent observers.

The government should launch an initiative to remind the people of the use of child soldiers. The despicable practice of using children as cannon fodder continued until the military brought the war to an end in May 2009. Even during the last few months of the conflict, the LTTE made desperate efforts to recruit children from among the civilians they held as a shield.

Cancellation of Victory Day parade

In the aftermath of Maithripala Sirisena winning the January 2015 presidential election, Sri Lanka cancelled the annual Victory Day parade. President Sirisena, who also served as the Defence Minister, in addition to being the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, made the decision in agreement with its coalition partner, the UNP.

The government declared that May 19, which was marked as the Victory Day will be celebrated as the ‘Remembrance Day’ instead, to commemorate all who died in the war.

This should be examined against the backdrop of Western governments criticizing the Victory Day parade. On behalf of all those who had been pursuing war crimes allegations since the conclusion of the war against the Sri Lankan military, Canada in 2014 demanded the cancellation of the parade.

Sri Lanka quite rightly rejected that blatant Canadian interference declaring that the issue is purely a domestic matter. In the run-up to the 2014 Victory Day parade, in Matara, Canada publicly declared that it wouldn’t be represented. It was the fifth Victory Day parade held amidst stepped up international pressure.

Several years later Canada accused Sri Lanka of perpetrating genocide, whereas in actual fact it was the white colonisers of North and South America who committed numerous acts of genocide often to grab natives’ lands in the new world. Acts of genocide were even committed in Church-run schools for native children where they were kept by force often against the wishes of their parents and communities even up to mid-1990s, more than two thousand unmarked graves of those children were discovered on grounds of those schools recently. And what about dozens of native women there who have disappeared without a trace in recent years and have the Canadian law enforcers made any genuine effort to trace their fate? Despite all that, the Ottawa government has the temerity to level genocide accusations against Sri Lanka and those accusations conveniently surfaced a few months before a public protests campaign allegedly backed by the US forced the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to quit office. In spite of Sri Lanka’s outright rejection of unsubstantiated allegation, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continued to reiterate genocide took place, hence May 18 declared as ‘Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day.’

However, the Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry has acknowledged that they never made such a finding. When the writer sought a clarification regarding Trudeau’s claim, the Canadian HC in Colombo reiterated that the Premier’s stand remained the same. However, Kelum Bandara in an exclusive Daily Mirror report headlined ‘Canada informs SL that no genocide took place in SL, Trudeau says otherwise for political ends’ posted on June 16,2023, exposed the Canadian lie.

Bandara pointed out that Canada’s official position contradicted the allegations pertaining to genocide propagated by some of its leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as such belated accusations does not hold water. According to the DM report, the Canadian Foreign Ministry had responded to the Sri Lanka regarding concerns raised on March 21, 2021 by Brampton’s City Council’s reference to genocide.

Having pointed out that municipal and provincial governments enjoyed independence from the federal government of Canada, the Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry acknowledged “the Government of Canada has not made a finding that there was genocide in Sri Lanka.”

But even after that, the Canadian Prime Minister repeated genocide allegations on May 18, 2023, a day prior to the 14th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s war victory against the LTTE.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion when LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was shot through his head on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon. That finally ended the scourge of terrorism.

Undeniable truth

On May 18, Tamils mark Mullivaikkal Memorial Day, in remembrance of those who died in the final phase of the fighting.

Actually how many civilians died as more than 200,000 were held as a human shield by the retreating LTTE? Would it be possible ever to identify the number of civilian and LTTE deaths as it was also not unusual to find Tigers who fought in civilian clothes, unless the Tamil community accepted the status of the dead?

If those who had been genuinely concerned about accountability issues and wanted to establish the number of dead, wounded, disappeared and those who secured foreign citizenship under assumed names, a proper census should be conducted with the assistance of the international community. Diaspora groups can play a significant role in carrying out an accurate survey. The census of the LTTE dead should begin with Sathiyanathan alias Shankar also known as Suresh (the first Great Hero in their parlance).

The census should be able to establish the number of ex-LTTE personnel living abroad to ensure they are not categorized here as war dead or disappeared. Perhaps South African Yasmin Sooka, a member of the UN Secretary General’s panel of experts on Sri Lanka accountability issues, can help conduct the survey as she, a Tamil of Indian origin, already had done a limited survey in the West.

The writer dealt with this issue in a report headlined ‘Sooka’s latest report to UNHRC: Glaring omissions’ posted on June 29, 2016.

The expensive survey had been carried out by the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP), affiliated to the Foundation of Human Rights in South Africa. Based on that survey ITJP released ‘Forgotten Sri Lanka’s exiled victims.’ The release of the report coincided with the commencement of the 32 sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2016. The report unintentionally revealed the existence of clandestine networks, facilitating Sri Lankans of Tamil origin, including former members of the LTTE, reaching Europe, through illegal means.

The Sooka study disclosed that LTTE personnel, including those who had been with Shanmugalingam Sivashankar alias Pottu Amman’s dreaded intelligence service, had secured citizenship in European countries, including the UK. Obviously, the report was meant to intensify pressure on Sri Lanka on the Geneva front, and justify the demand for a hybrid war crimes court on the basis of exaggerated and unsubstantiated accusations directed at the Sri Lankan military.

The report dealt with information obtained from 75 Tamils, living in the UK, France, Switzerland and Norway. Almost all of them had fled Sri Lanka after the conclusion of the war, in May, 2009 often after bribing local officials both civilian and military as alleged by some.

Sooka functions as the executive director of the foundation as well as ITJP. The report: “She is a former member of the South African & the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and was a legal advisor to Ban Ki-moon on Sri Lanka. She was the Soros inaugural Chair at the School of Public Policy and recently sat on the Panel investigating sexual violence by French peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic.”

The writer sought a clarification from UNSG’s deputy spokesperson, Farhan Haq, regarding Sooka’s tenure as a Legal Advisor to UNSG on Sri Lanka. The Island received the following response from Haq: “Yasmin Sooka has been on high level panels, including on Sri Lanka, but she has not been the legal adviser to the Secretary-General.”

A proper survey cannot be carried out unless stakeholders pay attention to the following matters: (1) Combatants and civilians killed before July 23, 1983, killing of 13 soldiers at Thinnavely, Jaffna, that triggered attacks on the Tamil community. (2) Combatants and civilians killed between August 1983 to July 29, 1987 (3) Combatants (Indian Army included) and civilians killed during July 29, 1987 to March 1990, when India ceased its military presence here. Accountability issues cannot be addressed unless India’s role is fully investigated and (4) combatants and civilians killed during June 1990 to May 2009.

The survey should also focus on (1) number of Indian and locally trained Tamils killed in clashes among groups (2) those killed during weapons training in India and hunted down and eliminated by Indian police and security forces after the LTTE assassinated former Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991, PLOTE cadres killed during Nov 1988 raid on the Maldives and those killed by the Indian Navy while they were fleeing the Maldives in a commandeered merchant vessel (3) Sri Lankan Tamils given refuge in India after the collapse of the North-East Provincial administration 1989/1990, and finally (4) Members of political parties and Provincial Council killed during the conflict. At least few of them had been killed by Tamil groups at the behest of Indian intelligence. Current MP Dharmalingham Siddharthan (TNA/PLOTE) is on record as having said that TELO killed his father, a then MP in Sept 1985 on the orders of the Indian intelligence.

The late Jayantha Dhanapala, the much respected diplomat raised the accountability on the part of the international community. Dhanapala did so when he appeared before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in Aug 2010 but successive governments conveniently ignored his submissions. They never did until the great man passed away.

Finally, it must be asked why there is no proper accounting by the UN types to illegal wars fought by the West and its proxies in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Palestine, Syria, etc., often on false pretexts that have caused millions of deaths, injuries, destruction and also millions of refugees since 1948.