The Critical Significance of Pictorial and Cartographic in Deciphering Eelam War IV: Extract from A Letter sent to the OISL Team in Geneva

Michael Roberts ….. This segment is part of an eight page survey sent to Sandra Beidas and her team in Geneva in November 2014. It addresses a problem we all face and a potential deficiency in the LLRC and Paranagama surveys: namely, their office room background.

Most analysts debating the intricacies of the war in its last phase have been, like this author, “armchair office personnel” with no battlefield experience. For this reason cartographic and pictorial evidence becomes especially important. While such perspectives have, indeed, been incorporated into the studies undertaken by the UN Panel of Experts and that of the ICEP, I insist that more detailed and thorough-going pictorial surveys are of central importance. My book, Tamil Person and State: Pictorial, is only one step in this direction. Video evidence is of even greater pertinence. That is why backroom investigators need to absorb the documentaries produced by Al-Jazeera as well as the propaganda videos peddled by Tamil outlets and the government (GSL). These media have to be carefully calibrated with the graphic map work produced by the International Crisis Group, the Daily Mirror and the Ministry of Defence.

22=WAR ZONE- late April ICGFig. 1– Graphic Map composed by ICG depicting the 1922 Penetration of the “Last Redoubt” (my concept)

04-alternative2013-01-30 19.34.38 ++Fig. 2  & 3— the exodus of surviving civilians from the Last Redoubt

 102c-perhaps Tamil refugee stream April 09-- AP ++

The video scenarios produced by GSL and its handmaidens, obviously, will not display the type of scenes uncovered by Gordon Weiss where a Tiger officer Ramesh is executed after torture.[1] However, for those who have been totally enmeshed in the incessant propaganda of the Tamil circuits it is educative to dwell on the You-Tube scenes depicting hordes of civilians crossing lagoon, sand and bare land in late April 2009, and again in May 2009.[2] The interaction between SL Army personnel and these exhausted and suffering people was not simply manufactured for the benefit of the cameramen.[3] This does not mean that individuals may not have been taken away and killed; or that individual instances of rape did not occur. Such possibilities have to be siphoned out via testimonies.[4] However the video scenes documenting the exodus of people from the Last Redoubt during 19-23 April suggest that the particular description of this set of events by “The Journalist” identified as Lokeesan in Harrison’s book Still Counting the Dead[5] is mostly fabrication and one facet of the continuing agit-prop activity of ardent Tamil nationalists.

In brief, then, scepticism, caution and thoroughness must be the investigative watchwords.

So, too, must proportionality. The rough estimates of dead Tamil personnel (Tigers and civilians together) must be set against the figure of 295,873 who survived[6] — a considerable figure in the circumstances;[7] while notice must be taken of the massive relief effort from February 2009 which catered to the needs of the survivors in the detention centres where military men, civilian GSL functionaries and selected local NGOs and several INGOs worked tirelessly in what I consider a remarkable security-cum-welfare operation which stretched over the months 2009 into years.[8]  Likewise, studies and debates on the death toll as well as the topic of “disappearances” in the twenty-four months of 2008-09 must proceed pragmatically and also embrace (a) computations of the natural death toll (inclusive of snake bite deaths)[9] in any large population and (b) the fact that the bodies of a considerable number of people who succumbed in the jungles or were buried in their safety-holes would have been subject to irretrievable decomposition or become fodder for carrion and termites.

L 141 -DSC_1030[1]--setting up field hospital Fig 4–a field hospital being set up, Manik Farm, April 2009  L 142a --manik Farm tentsFig. 5–Tented city set up courtesy of international donations Plus at Manik Farm L 153a- SDC10934 Fig 6–medical service in one of the field hospitals

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Fig 7–detainees at recreation

These may be distressing issues, but the topic demands a disciplined, culturally-attuned and comprehensive study, one that is attentive to the possibility of manipulation from all sides. It is as distressing as puzzling to me that serious lacunae have bedevilled the previous UN surveys. This conclusion can be gleaned from the most thorough-going study of the war in hand, namely, The Numbers Game, which is largely the work of an aeronautical engineer educated in the West, a gentleman who wishes to remain anonymous for reasons of security. This study (see IDAG 2012) is bulky and replete with Appendices. For that reason it is as imposing as difficult to comprehend. However, Noble and Colman have provided useful summaries. I urge the OHCHR to consult these works.

A NOTE: This essay is presented verbatim, though some extra footnotes have been added here or existing footnotes embellished. I also include a restricted bibliography for the benefit of more assiduous readers.




Al-Jazeera 2009a “SL army claims control of rebel territory, 26 Jan 2009,”

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2009b “The Battle for the Vanni Pocket,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, March 2009, Vol. 35/2, pp. 17-19. 2009157395/156554.html

Govt Film Unit [SL] 2014 “Last Days at Nandikadal,”  OR

Harrison, Frances 2012 Still Counting the Dead, London: Portobello.

IDAG [i.e. Citizen Silva] 2013 “The Numbers Game: Politics of Retributive Justice,” OR

Narendran, Rajasingham 2014 Harsh Ground Realities in War: Decomposing Bodies and Missing Persons and Soldiers,” 28 January 2014,

Noble, Kath 2013b “Numbers Game reviewed by Kath Noble: The Full Monty,” 14 July 2013,

Q and A 2011 “From Tsunami Medical Logistics to IDP Camp Medical Aid, 2004-09; Q and A with Dr Herath,” 14 September 2011,

Reddy, B. Muralidhar 2009d “An Escape from Hellhole,” 2009/04/25/stories/2009042558390100.html.

Reddy, Muralidhar 2009f “Final Hours. An eye-witness account of the last 70 hours of Eelam War IV,” Frontline, 26/12, 6-19 June 2009, 20090619261200900.htm

Reddy, Muralidhar 2009g “Multiple Displacements, Total Loss of Identity.” The Hindu, 27 May 2009,

Roberts, Michael 2011 “Humanitarian Work in the Midst of Propaganda War,” [ICES Seminar Power Point Presentation}, November 2011,

Roberts, M. 2012 “Blackmail during the Endgame in Eelam War IV,” 12 April 2012,

Roberts, M. 2013 “BBC-Blind: Misreading the Tamil Tiger Strategy of International Blackmail, 2008-13,”

Roberts, M. 2013 “Estimates of the Tamil Civilian Death Toll during the Last Phase of Eelam War IV in 2009: Appendix I for ‘BBC Blind’,”

Roberts, M.  2013 “Congestion in the “Vanni Pocket” January-May 2009: Appendix IV for “BBC Blind,”

Tammita-Delgoda, S. 2014 “Reading Between the Lines in April 2009: Tammita-Delgoda takes apart Marie Colvin’s jaundiced propaganda article in British newspaper,” 26 September 2014,

Thangavelu, Velupillai 2013 “LTTE Cadres Who Surrendered To The Army: Where Are They? Colombo Telegraph, 18 August 2013,

UN PoE 2011 Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts report on Accountability in Sri Lanka, March 2011…. POE_Report_Full.pdf.

UTHR 2009 A Marred Victory and a Defeat Pregnant with Meaning, Special Report No. 32.

UTHR 2009 Let Them Speak: Truth about Sri Lanka’s Victims of War. Special Report No. 34,

Weiss, Gordon 2012 New Evidence-The Death of Colonel Ramesh,” 21 March 2012, https://www.


[1] See Weiss, 2012 and Fig. 130b in Roberts, TPS. Pictorial, 2014.

[2] Still images of these scenes are available as Pics 20-22 in Roberts, “Cartographic & Photographic Illustrations in Support…,” 2014 …. or one can look at Figs. 102-03 and 128-29 in TPS. Pictorial, 2014.

[3] See Tammita-Delgoda 2014 and note the testimonies collected by such Tamil ‘investigators’ as Tamarine Constantine and Rajasingham  Narendran at the detention centres immediately afterwards.

[4] Here the work of the UTHR investigative team in Reports No 32 and 34 are of importance as also the subsequent work of the LLRC. There may also be the occasional pictorial proof as in the video re the capture and apparent killing of Isaipriya ( Since then I have discovered the still shots in

[5] Frances Harrison: Still Counting the Dead, 2012: 33-54.

[6] New Footnote: This figure includes 11,800 identified as Tiger personnel and sent to secure detention centres which were then called” rehabilitation camps.” A note of caution: statistics down to the last digit provide a certitude that is misleading. A small number of IDPs were released very early on in May-June 2009. The single strand barbed wire and corrupt officials and traders enabled quite a number of IDPs to slip away in 2009 –as many as 2000 according to Fr. Rohan Silva’s guesstimate and much higher in the view of some Tamil informants. Among those who got away were Tiger officers and Jegan Waran (an Australian engineer) who were spirited away by the operational work of LTTE moles stationed in Vavuniya.

[7] New Footnote: Though I have not read the Paranagama Report as yet, a friend has sent an extract from Para 83 in that report which quotes General Holmes’s review of the situation facing the SL Army in 2009 which asserts that it was “entirely unique” and the fact that 290,000 people escaped alive is in itself remarkable.”

[8] See Roberts, “Towards Citizenship,” in TPS. Essays, 2014: 155-67 and TPS. Pictorial, 2014: Figs.141-59. Also see Roberts, 2011,

[9] On snake-bite fatalities and estimates of natural death, see Roberts, TPS. Essays, 2014: 229-37 and TPS Pictorial, 2014: 25-26. Also note Rajasingham Narendran 2014.


Filed under accountability, atrocities, doctoring evidence, historical interpretation, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, news fabrication, politIcal discourse, Rajapaksa regime, security, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, Tamil Tiger fighters, the imaginary and the real, truth as casualty of war, war crimes, welfare & philanthophy, world events & processes

3 responses to “The Critical Significance of Pictorial and Cartographic in Deciphering Eelam War IV: Extract from A Letter sent to the OISL Team in Geneva

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