David Miliband’s Imperious Intervention in Lanka left in Tatters

Michael Roberts, courtesy of Colombo Telegraph, where the title is different

The manner in which President Mahinda Rajapaksa withstood and totally deflated the imperialistic moves by Miliband and Kouchner, respective Foreign Ministers for Britain and France, in late April 2009 has been the stuff of salacious gossip in pro-Rajapaksa and Sri Lankan patriot circles. Any re-telling of this tale in solid detail on the foundations of direct witness will cast me into the same mould in the minds of those beyond that circle — whether sanctimonious, liberal and/or snooty. No matter: historical recording must trump popular polling and moral posturing. Meeting Lalith Weeratunga[1] enables me to present the story in vivid detail.

In this handout picture released by The Sri Lankan Presidential Office, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner (L) looks on as his British counterpart David Miliband (C) shakes hands with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa (R) as they arrive for a meeting at Ambilipitiyasits on April 29, 2009. British foreign minister David Miliband and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner who are in Sri Lanka for a one-day visit have failed to secure an agreement from Sri Lanka to end an offensive against Tamil rebels and allow humanitarian access to civilians trapped by the fighting. AFP PHOTO/HO/Sri Lankan Presidential office RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE GETTY OUT (Photo credit should read HO/AFP/Getty Images)

In this handout picture released by The Sri Lankan Presidential Office, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner (L) looks on as his British counterpart David Miliband (C) shakes hands with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa (R) as they arrive for a meeting at Ambilipitiya  Photo credit should read HO/AFP/Getty Images

Preceding Context

Comprehending the circumstances of Miliband and Kouchner’s forcible imposition of selves into a country in the throes of a deadly war demands a summary recounting of pertinent facts.

  1. Within the broader context of Eelam War Four the LTTE had created the parametres of the battle theatre[2] in their declining land-area by (a) encouraging their mass of supporters to move east so as to serve as a defensive formation and body of hostages-cum-labour force as well as (b) the ground on which they could raise the spectre of “an impending humanitarian catastrophe” by utilising their efficient agit-prop machinery, Tamil migrants abroad and pliant/attentive Western media engines[3] so as to secure a rescue act from powerful quarters.
  2. This campaign drew strong interventions from human rights agencies such as Amnesty International Watch, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group, while attracting numerous liberals and radicals in the Western world – together constituting what was a third force impinging on Eelam War IV.
  3. It also drew increasing support from the Western powers who saw themselves as “the international community” and the moral pinnacle of the Good. The reference here is to what analysts refer to as “Neo-Con” thinking. One guide to this current was State Department staffer Samantha Power’s book, A Problem from Hell.[4] When Barack Obama became President and Hilary Clinton was made Secretary of State in January 2009, this impetus received a further boost as USA adopted a tougher line towards the government of Sri Lanka (GSL) and the UN bureaucrats in Geneva and New York took a more forceful interventionist line.
  4. The sum total of these lines of activity saw USA, Britain and EU seeking to protect the Tamil civilians caught in the Tiger corral by asking both sides to institute a ceasefire. Such a demand favoured the warring party on the defensive back foot: that is, it helped the LTTE.
  5. However, the pressure they could exert of the LTTE was limited. Ambassador Robert Blake put matters in a nutshell in a despatch (No. 133 via Wikileaks) to his superiors on the 5th February 2009: “the LTTE had refused to allow civilians to leave because the LTTE needs the civilians as human shields, as a pool for forced conscription, and asa means to try to persuade the international community to force a cease-fire upon the government, since that is the LTTE’s only hope.” Again, a memo from Tore Hattrem, the Norwegian ambassador in Lanka, to Basil Rajapaksa on the 16th February 2009 indicates that the international power-brokers were getting nowhere in their attempts to secure cooperation from the LTTE (see copy). photo
  6. This did not deter USA and these several agencies from pressurizing GSL to institute a ceasefire or cease military advances. Indeed, US ambassador Blake even waved the sword of “war crimes” over the government’s head at a meeting with Foreign Minister Bogollagama on the 18th March 2009.
  7. In the meanwhile, a key segment of the international power-cabal had got into bed with KP and other Tiger representatives at Kuala Lumpur in February 2009 to hatch a plan to rescue the Tiger leadership.[5] KP’s emphasis was on saving the LTTE leaders. In partial contrast the tale presented to the world by Solheim’s alter voice, Mark Salter, is about an international operation dedicated to the rescue of the Tamil civilians and a silencing of LTTE guns (2015: 348). USA was kept abreast of this conspiracy and even sent a PACOM team to Sri Lanka to explore possibilities. Salter is studiously silent about the date on which the plot was discussed at Kuala Lumpur and precisely when the PACOM team reached Sri Lanka.[6] I now believe that this exploratory visit may even have been in late February.[7]
  8. GSL side-stepped these pressures. The leading SL Army officers were men who had seen how the Vadamaratchchi operation had been stymied by imperialistic action from outside (by India under Rajiv Gandhi) and were determined to crush the Tigers. Gotabaya Rajapaksa blandly stonewalled when faced with Blake’s high-handed insistence in mid-April 2009 that the GSL should cease military advances. He must have had experience in poker-games.
  9. Within ten days of this ‘poker-match,’ commando forces penetrated the Last Redoubt of the LTTE (some 24-30 square miles in extent) on the 18/19th April, while the escape routes which the SL Army had devised enabled some 103-110,000 civilians (inclusive of some Tigers) to reach safe government-controlled terrain over the course of the next four days.
  10. This remarkable operation[8] seems to have been blanketed out in powerful strands of the Western media, though Reuters and the Indian press conveyed decent accounts of this marvellous outcome. Indeed, the strident tales in Western media outlets were only one notch below the histrionic agitation of Tamil migrants in Western cities who assembled en masse in striking demonstrations in April and May 2009.[9] 

05 -- april 2009 exodus 07--SRI_LANKA_Profughi_Tamil_2009(600_x_387)

DEMOS london 1 DEMOS london 2 Agitation in London

DEMOS toronto 1 Agitation in Toronto

This background set the platform for strong-arm tactics from the self-appointed “international community.” Secretary of State Clinton verbally admonished GSL. On Wednesday the 22nd April she told the world that “a terrible humanitarian tragedy” was taking place in Sri Lanka, referred to “genocide” and demanded a halt to fighting so that “we could secure a safe passage for so many of the trapped civilians as possible.” Notice the arrogant “we.” USA was to call the shots.

USA’s sidekicks then entered the fray. David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner rushed to Sri Lanka at the end of April to exert full-frontal pressure on the government.[10] Their amateurish readings of the battlefield scenario appear to have blinded them to the difficulties of any military rescue operation by outside forces, however powerful (a perspective that contrasted with the US embassy’s realistic assessment of the difficulties attached to any such intervention[11]). Subsequent revelations from British administrative circles suggest that Miliband was driven in part by constituency considerations because of a number of Sri Lankan Tamil votes in his electorate of South Shields. In my surmise, however, his Left wing views and moral fervour – deepened further by his Jewish sensibilities[12] – inspired gullibility to the tales conveyed to him by Tamils as well as British media personnel swayed by the Tamil propaganda.

It is this gross misreading of the situation on the war front, besides outstanding arrogance, that emerges from the details of his encounters with two of the three key players in the Sri Lankan firmament. The first encounter of the two Foreign Ministers seems to have been on the evening of April 28th with Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Defence Secretary. The Guardian (in UK) called it a “heated exchange” (2009). The editorial in the local newspaper, the Island, is more revealing:

[Rajapaksa] told him that the government would not stop its war on terror until the LTTE was crushed and its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran captured, dead or alive.…  the Defence Secretary did not mince his words, when he said it was Sri Lankan troops and civilians who had perished in the conflict and therefore the government was determined to finish off the LTTE. He said humanitarian concerns were only a ploy employed by some people to extricate Prabhakaran and his top leaders from the mess they had got into. He said a truce would only help the LTTE to regroup.

“The only person who could stop this war,” a plain-spoken Defence Secretary told the British dignitaries, “is the President of Sri Lanka.

So, the intentions of the European big-wigs now depended on their ability to persuade or overwhelm President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

MILIBANDat M farm Miliband & Kouchner at one of the Manik Farm detention centres Kouchner-and-Miliband-M-Farm-reuters Note Miliband’s intensity. He had preconceived notions about conditions at the camp (admittedly overcrowded and subject to rushed efforts involving a conglomerate made up of government departments and both local and foreign NGOs)

The latter, however, had chosen a strategic playing field for this potential confrontation, one beyond the urbane environment of urban buildings. On the 29th April Miliband and Kouchner had been flown by government helicopter (with Palitha Kohona in attendance) to the detention centres at Manik Farm where the Tamil displaced were being catered for in what was a massive relief operation (see Roberts, Tamil Person & State. Pictorial, 2014: 185-203). It was from thence that Miliband and Kouchner were flown by air force helicopter to the Presidential circuit bungalow at Chandrikawewa near Embilipitiya overlooking the irrigation tank at that location in the southern part of Sri Lanka – not quite jungle but near enough.


M+K and MR 22

The meeting took place in the presence of Foreign Minister Bogollagama, Lalith Weeratunga (Secy to the President), Palitha Kohona (Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Ms Kshenuka Seneviratne, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and included the local British and French ambassadors. After the initial pleasantries, Miliband opened the ‘bowling’ aggressively with a fiery ‘bouncer’: “Mr President, We have a message from the international community. Your forces are threatening the annihilation of the Tamils. We want you to stop these attacks on Tamils immediately.”
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s response was as sharp as angry: “Remember, we are no longer a colony of yours. That ended in 1948. I will not stop until our forces will finish terrorism.” At this point Kouchner intervened: “we are your friends.” To which Rajapaksa retorted: “I know who my friends are.” Also Rajapaksa lambasted Miliband, “When people die here it’s just news for you, but it’s agony for me and my people. I am the elected leader of this country and we are very close to ending terrorism. We will not stop.”

It was a two-over match. The visitors were stymied, deflated. No further elaborations are required. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s fierce response on this occasion was on the same plane as the retort directed at Solheim in March 2006 when the latter told the President that the LTTE could not be defeated.[13] Now, on 31 April 2009 and on the cusp of a momentous military victory, Mahinda Rajapaksa was in no mood for polite responses to big power bombast – bluster rooted in gross magnification of the battlefield casualties and the gullible acceptance of media reports by highly-placed men with an abysmal awareness of ground realities. One could not have asked or a more amateurish reading of the battlefield situation (or its politics) than that postulated by David Miliband. That such idiocy reposed so firmly in such a powerful institution in the international firmament indicates serious deficiencies in the Britain’s Foreign Ministry.

C'wewa Chandrikawewa in May 2009?

C'wewa 22 Chandrikawewa Today?


Black, Chris & Edward S. Herman 2000 “An Unindicted War Criminal. Louise Arbour and the International Crimes Tribunal,” http://www.whale.to/c/unindicted_war_criminal.html

Black, Chris 2016 “Terrorism. A Matrix of Lies and Deceit,” http://journal-neo.org/2016/06/17/terrorism-a-matrix-of-lies-and-deceit/

Gamage, Daya 2008 “Barack Obama & Civil War in Sri Lanka; Robert Blake’s Mind-Set; Negating R2P Psychology Build-Up,” 2 November 2008,http://www.asiantribune.com/?q=node/14004.

Gamage, Daya 2009 “Rudrakumaran’s Role to promote LTTE contravenes US material support Laws,” 22 September 2009,http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2009/08/23/rudrakumaran%E2%80%99s-role-promote-ltte-contravenes-us-%E2%80%98material-support%E2%80%99-laws

Gamage, Daya 2011b “International Humanitarian Law – at all times – applicable to LTTE atrocities: Why was the West silent?” 6 July 2011,http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2011/07/05/applicability-ihl-provisions-ltte-violent-acts-why-was-west-silent

Gamage, Daya 2014 “The American Agenda for Sri Lanka’s National Issues, 1970s-2014,” 5 July 2014,https://thuppahis.com/2014/07/05/the-american-agenda-for-sri-lankas-national-issues-1970s-2014/

Guardian 2010“Miliband in row with Sri Lankan defence minister,” 30 April 2009,


Guardian 2010“Wikileaks cables: David Miliband focused on Sri Lankan war ‘to win votes’,” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/dec/01/wikileaks-david-miliband-sri-lanka

Holmes, Maj-General John T. 2015 “Expert Military Opinion,” 28 March 2015, in Paranagama Commission, 2015, pp. 180ff.

Hull, C. Bryson 2009 “Sri Lanka opens eye in the sky on war zone,” 20 April 2009, http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSCOL450259

Hull, C. Bryson & Ranga Sirilal 2009 “Sri Lankan War in Endgame, 100,000 escape rebel zone,” 23 April 2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-srilanka-war-idUSTRE53J0IZ20090422

Hull, C. Bryson & Ranga Sirilal 2009 “Sri Lanka’s long war in bloody final climax,” 17 May 2009, http://mg.co.za/article/2009-05-17-sri-lankas-long-war-in-bloody-final-climax

Island 2009 “War won’t stop until Prabhakaran is taken, dead or alive
Gota tells Miliband and Kouchner,” 30 April 2009, http://www.island.lk/2009/04/30/news18.html

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2009 “Fraudulent concept of a “fire-free, no-fire, safe zone,” 18 April 2009, http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/343.

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2011 “KP’ Speaks Out. An Interview with Former Tiger Chief, Vavuniya: NERDO.

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2015 “The Life and Death of Velupillai Pirapāharan,” 9 May 2015, https://thuppahis.com/2015/05/09/the-life-and-death-of-velupillai-pirapaharan/

[Mango] “Amnesty International reveals its Flawed Tunnel-Vision in Sri Lanka in 2009,” 10 Aug. 2011, https://thuppahis.com/2011/08/10/amnesty-international-reveals-its-flawed-tunnel-vision-on-sri-lanka-in-2009/

Melvern, Linda 2011 “A response to Stephen Wertheim’s ‘A solution from hell: The United States and the rise of humanitarian interventionism, 1991–2003’,” Journal of Genocide Research, 13: vol. 1 & 3, pp. 153-157

Nessman, Ravi [of Associated Press] 2009 “French, British ministers in Sri Lanka for talks,” 28 April 2009, http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2009/apr/28/sri-lanka-civil-war-042809/

Peiris, Gerald H. 2010The Doctrine of Responsibility to Protect: Impulses, Implications and Impact,” 30 June 2010, http://www.slguardian.org/2010/06/the-doctrine-of-responsibility-to-protect-impulses-implications-and-impact/

Roberts, Michael 2009 “Dilemmas at War’s End: Thoughts on Hard Realities,” 10 Feb. 2009, http://groundviews.org/2009/02/10/dilemmas-at-wars-end-thoughts-on-hard-realities/, rep. in Roberts, Fire and Storm, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 267-74.

Roberts, Michael 2009 “Dilemma’s at War’s End: Clarifications and Counter-offensive,” www. groundviews.org, rep. in Roberts, Fire and Storm, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 275-87.

Roberts, Michael 2010 “Simpletons at the World’s Peak: Sri Lankan Situation Stumps the World,” in Roberts, Fire and Storm, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 289-302.… originally in Frontline under a different title in May 2009

Roberts, Michael 2011a “People of Righteousness target Sri Lanka,” 27 June 2011, https://thuppahis.com/2011/06/27/people-of-righteousness-target-sri-lanka/

Roberts, Michael 2013 “BBC-Blind: Misreading the Tamil Tiger Strategy of International Blackmail, 2008-13,” 8 December 2013, https://thuppahis.com/2013/12/08/bbc-blind-misreading-the-tamil-tiger-strategy-of-international-blackmail-2008-13/#more-11221

Roberts, Michael 2014 “Generating Calamity, 2008-2014: An Overview of Tamil Nationalist Operations and Their Marvels,” 10 April 2014, http://groundviews.org/2014/04/10/generating-calamity-2008-2014-an-overview-of-tamil-nationalist-operations-and-their-marvels/

Roberts, Michael 2014 “Winning the War: Evaluating the Impact of Api Wenuwen Api,” 1 September 2014, https://thuppahis.com/2014/09/01/winning-the-war-evaluating-the-impact-of-api-wenuwen-ap/

Roberts, Michael 2015 “The Realities of Eelam War IV,” 27 October 2015, https://thuppahis.com/2015/10/27/the-realities-of-eelam-war-iv/

Roberts, Michael 2014 ““BBC-Blind: Misreading the Tamil Tiger Strategy of International Blackmail, 2008-13,” in Roberts, Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo: VijithaYapa Publications, pp. 210-29.

Roberts, Michael 2014 Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.

Roberts, Michael 2015 “Targeting Sri Lanka by playing ball with Tamil Extremism,” 24 July 2015, https://thuppahis.com/wpadmin/post.php?post=17127&action=edit&postpost=v2

Roberts, Michael 2015b “Ambassador Blake in Never-Never-Land: Misreading LTTE Capacity in Early 2009,” 26 August 2015,https://thuppahis.com/2015/08/26/ambassador-blake-in-never-never-land-misreading-ltte-capacity-in-early-2009/

Roberts, Michael  2016 “Speaking to Gotabaya-I: Plans Afoot in 2009 to Rescue the Tiger Leadership,”  8 March 2016, https://thuppahis.com/2016/03/08/speaking-to-gotabaya-i-plans-afoot-in-2009-to-rescue-the-tiger-leadership/#more-20092

Roberts, Michael 2016 “Saving Talaivar Pirapāharan,” 5 April 2016, https://thuppahis.com/2016/04/06/saving-talaivar-pirapaharan/

SMH 2009 “Tamils protest outside Kiribilli House,” 27 April 2009, http://www.smh.com.au//breaking-news-national/tamils-protest-outside-kirribilli-house-20090427-aknf.html

Tamil Guardian 2009 “Diaspora Tamils protest, fast in increasing numbers; call for ceasefire,” 15 April 2009, http://www.tamilguardian.com/article.asp?articleid=2281.

Telegraph 2009 “Britain and France fail to persuade Sri Lanka to end war,” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/srilanka/5242076/Britain-and-France-fail-to-persuade-Sri-Lanka-to-end-war.html

US Embassy 2014 “Ball-by-Ball through Wikileaks: US Embassy Despatches from Colombo, 2009: ONE,” 27 August 2014, http://thuppahis.com/2014/08/27/ball-by-ball-through-wikileaks-us-embassy-despatches-from-colombo-2009-one/#more-13481

Washington Post 2009 “Clinton & self-styled peacemakers obstructing Tiger defeat,” 27 April 2009,http://www.priu.gov.lk/news_update/Current_Affairs/ca200904/20090427clinton_self_styled_peacemakers_obstructing_tiger_defeat.htm

Wertheim. Stephen 2010 “A solution from hell: the United States and the rise of humanitarian interventionism, 1991–2003,” Journal of Genocide Research, 12: vol. 3 & 4, 149 -72


[1] We met in Colombo 14th June 2016.

[2] These contentions have been spelt out in detail in Roberts, “Generating Calamity” 2014 and “Realities,” 2015.

[3] One example is Nessman 2009.

[4] Printed by Perennial, in New York in 2003. For these trends se Wertheim 2010.

[5] See Salter 2015; Jeyaraj 2011 and Roberts, “Saving Talaivar,” 2016b.

[6] Such silence can be read as deliberate. Temporal markings are central to delineation of cause and effect. KP’s account too lacks some critical details; but DBS Jeyaraj did indicate to me tentatively (by email) that Pirapaharan’s rejection of the faxed rescue plan was in early March.

[7] I have not got very far in my efforts to extract details about the PACOM visit and its outcome. Gotabaya Rajapaksa denied any knowledge of such a visit when I contacted him on Skype telephone from Australia (Roberts, “Speaking to Gotabaya-I,” 2016).

[8] From the position of an amateur person of office background, I ventured to argue that the penetration and capture of the LTTE’s “Last Redoubt” matched the victory of the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu in being one of the marvels of modern warfare (Roberts, “Evaluating the Impact of Api Wenuwen Api,” 1 September 2014,). This evaluation has been subsequently given indirect support by the Memorandum from former SAS officer J. T. Holmes appended to the Paranagama Commission Report (2015: 180ff).

[9] See the images in Roberts, “One-eyed Zealousness,” 2015. Also see “Tamils protest outside Kiribilli House,” Sydney Morning Herald, 27 April 2009 and Tamil Guardian,Diaspora Tamils protest, fast in increasing numbers; call for ceasefire,” 15 April 2009.

[10] The Norwegian Foreign Minister was to be part of this team, but his application was turned down by GSL.

[11] When an American reporter met a staff officer in the US embassy in Colombo in pursuit of information relating to grapevine gossip about a possible international rescue act, he found that the Embassy officer believed that the circumstances did not lend themselves to intervention. In this reporter’s view Miliband was far more optimistic and gung-ho about the prospects of an international humanitarian rescue act.

[12] Many Jews, especially those of Liberal or radical political leaning, incline towards sympathy for peoples who they believe (whether mistakenly or validly) to be threatened by a more powerful force.  Gordon Weiss, an Australian of Polish Jewish lineage, falls into this category. With the Miliband brothers there was the added inspiration of their father’s intellectual engagement in fostering the New Left Review in circumstances where the Miliband family were only too aware of their good fortune to escape from Europe in the 1930s. Ralph Miliband was born in Belgium to Polish Jewish immigrants as “Adolphe Miliband” (1924–1994) and became a sociologist of repute. He has been described as “one of the best known academic Marxists of his generation”, in this manner being compared with E. P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm and Perry Anderson

[13] Information from Lalith Weeratunga (to be related in separate account)


Filed under accountability, american imperialism, authoritarian regimes, British imperialism, centre-periphery relations, disparagement, Eelam, foreign policy, gordon weiss, historical interpretation, human rights, Indian Ocean politics, legal issues, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, news fabrication, politIcal discourse, power politics, Rajapaksa regime, Responsibility to Protect or R2P, security, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, Tamil migration, truth as casualty of war, war crimes, war reportage, wikileaks, world events & processes

33 responses to “David Miliband’s Imperious Intervention in Lanka left in Tatters

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