Competing Commemorations and A Hotbed of Political Manoeuvres — says Ferdinando

The Global Sri Lanka Forum (GSLF) celebrated Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism in May, 2009 with a public gathering in Dubai. Former Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohina addressed the gathering. On the invitation of the GSLF, Mrs S.G Juliet, mother of Corporal Gamini Kularatne of the Sixth Battalion of the Sinha Regiment garlanded a statue of her son. Gunaratne carried out suicide attack on an LTTE bulldozer on July 14, 1991 during the battle for the strategic Elephant Pass base, the gateway to the Jaffna peninsula. The event took place in the wake of the recent split in the GSLF, leading to the formation of another organization, World Patriotic Lankan Forum (WPLF), headed by Wasantha Keerthiratne.

Shamindra Ferdinando addressing the moment:

Nine years after the successful conclusion of the war, Sri Lanka is still struggling to cope up with her greatest post-war achievement. A deeply divided Sri Lanka marked the ninth anniversary of the defeat of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), once considered invincible by many, on the Vanni east front, with a series of countrywide commemorative events this month. Much to the disappointment of the vast majority of people, the government and the military couldn’t even organize these events in one day.

Commemorative events were held on May 18 at the Security Forces Headquarters, Division Headquarters, Forward Maintenance Areas, Regimental Centers, Army Training Schools, Units, Field Headquarters and military rehabilitation centers.

Many an eyebrow was raised when the Security Forces Headquarters, Jaffna, organized a commemorative event on May 4 with Northern Province Governor Reginald Cooray as the Chief Guest. It is still not clear why the Jaffna Security Forces Headquarters organized a commemorative event in the first week of May.

Religious events, too, were held with an aaloka pooja at Kelaniya Raja Viharaya, where 28,619 lamps were lit in memory of the fallen officers and men and those listed missing. The Kelaniya event was held on May 19.

The main national event was held at the National War Heroes Monument at Battaramulla on May 19, with the participation of President Maithripala Sirisena and service commanders. PM Wickremesinghe was very conspicuous by his absence. War-winning Army Chief and Sri Lanka’s only five-star General Sarath Fonseka, at the center of a recent controversy over publicly flaying President Sirisena, attended the event.

BUT THE GOVERNMENT REFRAINED FROM RESUMING THE VICTORY DAY PARADE, SUSPENDED IN 2015, AFTER THE CHANGE OF GOVERNMENT. UPFA General Secretary and Sirisena loyalist Mahinda Amaraweera declared, on May 19, that as the costly event wasn’t held, funds could be utilized for the welfare of the military.

Mullivaikkal Genocide Day 

Northern Province Chief Minister and former Supreme Court judge, Canagasabapathy Visuvalingam Wigneswaran, took part in a commemorative event organized at the Mullivaikkal memorial ground on May 18 to mark what the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) stalwart called the 9th anniversary of the Mullivaikkal Genocide Day.

The Tamil Guardian quoted Wigneswaran as having said: “Even in this situation where we are not in a position to deliver any sort of justice to our people who have been affected; our people are protesting continuously on the streets for justice and their fundamental securities; and our land is becoming colonized by Buddhism by the many thousands of military officers deployed across the North-East today, we gather together to remember the 9th anniversary of Mullivaikkal Genocide Day.”

The Mullivaikkal event underscored the sharp split in the four-party TNA with Wigneswaran asserting leadership in a movement that could challenge the current TNA leadership.

Addressing the crowd, Wigneswaran urged the international community (read as Western powers) to establish what the Tamil Guardian called an international strategic mechanism to ensure justice.

Alleging that the Tamil community had been subjected to ‘institutional genocide’, Wigneswaran sought an assurance from the international community (read as Western powers) as regards a sustainable political settlement based on their sovereignty, their homelands and their individuality.

“Sri Lanka consented to install a hybrid Inquiry Panel before the world body. Now they refuse to abide by their promise and undertaking. This would point out to the world the manner in which our successive governments, for 70 years, have deceived and fooled our Tamil people.

“Still steadfast in their Mahawansa-oriented perception, the Sinhalese politicians consider the Mullivaikal debacle as the end of a Tamil – Sinhala war. That is why commemorative victory festivals are held in the South during this period.”

Calling on the military to withdraw completely from the North-East, Wigneswaran said, “The Vanni area has become the citadel for Sinhala colonization. Especially in this Mullaitivu District both land and sea have been seized by force by the Armed Forces.

“Next year, it would be the 10th anniversary since the brutal massacre at Mullivaikal. Let us dedicate the 18th of May, every year, as a day of mourning and as a symbol of our unity. Let us resolve that in the coming years we would bring all interest groups among us together, appoint an appropriate committee, devoid of political party affiliations and regional considerations, to organize an appropriate Day of Remembrance on 18th May in the coming years. Let us pray for peace to the souls of all those who died in Mullivaikal nine years ago.”

Those leaving the commemorative event at Mullivaikkal were offered cool drinks by the Army. Troops of the 68 Division, deployed in the Mullivaikkal area, provided the cool drinks. Those returning to the Jaffna peninsula, after having participated in the Mullivaikkal commemoration, were also provided refreshments by troops deployed at Iyyakachchi. The 55.2 Brigade is deployed in the Iyyakachchi area, a former LTTE stronghold, north of Elephant Pass.

Those at the Mullivaikkal commemoration had forgotten the origins of Tamil terrorism, fighting between various Tamil terrorist groups and Indian trained groups ‘exporting’ terrorism.

Institutional genocide

It would be pertinent to mention that Wigneswaran broke ranks with the State about two years before the change of the Rajapaksa government. Mullivaikkal accusation that his community had been subjected to ‘institutional genocide’ must be examined against the backdrop of his long standing association with the State as a member of the judiciary, especially being a member of the Supreme Court for four years, beginning 2001. When did Wigneswaran realize institutional genocide was taking place? Did the Northern CM at least discuss his fears with Vasudeva Nanayakkara, whose daughter is married to one of his sons. Having served the judiciary for over three decades, Wigneswaran couldn’t have served successive administrations if institutional genocide took place as alleged. Or, did institutional genocide begin only after Wigneswaran retired as a member of the Supreme Court in late 2004? If that was the case, twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa could be accused of institutional genocide? Wigneswaran should explain institutional genocide undertaken by the Rajapaksa administration. It would be interesting to know whether the likes of Wigneswaran felt institutional genocide still continued even after the change of government, in January 2015.

Having launched a political career, in 2013, thanks to the TNA, Colombo-born Wigneswaran is now stepping up pressure on his original sponsors. Wigneswaran’s strategy is obvious. As the most prominent leader of the Tamil People’s Council (TPC), Wigneswaran is seeking to undermine the incumbent TNA leadership in the wake of those opposed to R. Sampanthan’s outfit making progress at the Feb. 10 Local Government polls. Wigneswaran has no option but to take a very strong anti-establishment stand to strengthen his campaign, both here and abroad.

As long as the government didn’t counter unsubstantiated war crimes allegations propagated by interested parties, Sri Lanka will continue to be mauled at local political platforms and abroad. For want of a cohesive strategy, the armed forces had been flayed with Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) recommending far reaching security sector reforms in response to wild war crimes allegations.

Responsibility of the media

The Sri Lanka Press Council (SLPC), in collaboration with the Information Department, organized a workshop on May 18 for the Colombo District print and electronic media provincial journalists. The workshop dealt with post-war national reconciliation process nine years after the war was brought to a successful conclusion on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon. The writer was invited to speak on the responsibility on the part of the media in national reconciliation process whereas Director General, Government Information Department attorney-at-law Sudarshana Gunawardena, former Irida Divaina editor now on the Presidential Secretariat staff Gamini Sumanasekera, Chairman of SLPC attorney-at-law Koggala Wellala Bandula and Senior Lecturer, Department of Mass Communication, University of Kelaniya Aruna Lokuliyana tackled related issues.

The writer took advantage of the opportunity to stress that reconciliation wouldn’t have been a reality if the armed forces offensive against the LTTE failed on the Vanni front. Obviously, the incumbent government is reluctant to acknowledge that eradication militarily of the LTTE, [a of Tamn organisation composed of Tamils] , paved the way for national reconciliation. The TNA that had regained its legitimate right to represent the Tamil community in the wake of the LTTE’s defeat, too, is reluctant to accept the reality. Both the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government and the TNA still remain committed to the Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, in Oct. 2015.

Jaffna District TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran is on record as having said that the Geneva Resolution had been adopted on Oct 1, 2015, following tripartite negotiations, involving the Sri Lankan government, the US and the TNA. The MP declared that they had agreed for a hybrid court with foreign judges, prosecutors, defence attorneys and investigators.

The TNA, in a statement, issued on June 16, 2016, quoted MP Sumanthiran as having told the congressional hearing: “I was personally involved in the negotiations, with the United States of America also participating in that particular process. There were some doubts created, as to whether the Constitution of Sri Lanka would allow for foreign nationals to function as judges and we went into that question, clarified it, and said yes they can and that is how that phraseology was agreed upon. And so, to us having negotiated and compromised and agreed that there would be a hybrid tribunal to try these mass atrocities, it is not open for the government now to shift its stance and say “well, international involvement yes, but it’s in a different form, now…’. That is not acceptable to us all.”

The writer raised the following matters with the gathering:

(1) National reconciliation not possible as long as the LTTE retained conventional military power

(2) Battlefield defeat of the LTTE paved the way for national reconciliation

(3) Eradication of the LTTE allowed the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi led TNA to recommence normal political activity

(4) The TNA had no option but to recognize the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil people

(5) Having backed the LTTE, until the very end of the war, in May 2009, the TNA switched its allegiance to war-winning Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka at the January 2010 presidential poll. Can there be a better example to prove the TNA never really believed Fonseka’s Army massacred civilians

(6) None of those shedding crocodile tears today for the Tamil people ever pleaded with the LTTE to release over 300,000 civilians held hostage on the Vanni east front as a human shield to protect the cornered rump of the LTTE

(7) Sri Lanka is the only country to co-sponsor in Geneva a Resolution against its own armed forces and wartime leadership on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations

(8) The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government deliberately avoided an opportunity to effectively disapprove war crimes accusations on the basis of wartime British High Commission dispatches (Jan-May 2009) revealed in the UK House of Lords in mid Oct 2017

(9) Failure on the part of lawmakers representing the government and the Opposition to use the late Subramanium Sivakamy aka ‘Colonel’ Thamilini’s memoirs ‘Thiyuni Asipathaka Sevana Yata’ to expose lies propagated by interested parties. The writer stressed the fact that civil society activists Dharmasiri Bandaranayake and Gamini Viyangoda together with Thamilini’s husband, a British national of Sri Lankan origin, launched memoirs after her demise. She succumbed to cancer while receiving treatment from Sinhala doctors. The writer suggested that SLPC and the Information Department make arrangements to provide the late Thamilini’s memoirs to journalists.

(10) The TNA and the LTTE facilitated the then PM Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory at the Nov. 2005 presidential polls by ordering the Tamil electorate not to exercise their franchise under any circumstances. Their move ensured Rajapaksa’s victory at the expense of UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe, who lost by less than 200,000 votes

(11) The LTTE felt confident dealing with Rajapaksa whom the LTTE and Tamil Diaspora believed lacked experience and international support to face the LTTE

(12) The LTTE believed that Jaffna could be regained and the Army pushed southwards to Anuradhapura within two years. The writer based this assessment on what Kumaran Pathmanathan told him in Colombo several months after he was captured in Malaysia and brought down to Sri Lanka

The gathering was also told that the media couldn’t be expected to reconcile communities at a time major political parties were at logger heads over post-war reconciliation process. Recent verbal exchange between Health Minister Cabinet Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne and two journalists at the post-cabinet press briefing highlighted the lack of understanding of the contentious issue of Mullaivaikkal commemoration. Dr. Senaratne earned the wrath of the Joint Opposition and was vilified in social media for comparing the JVP with the LTTE and recognizing the Tamils’ right to commemorate those who fought for the LTTE.

The writer told the Information Department gathering that the right of the Tamil people to commemorate fallen LTTE cadres should not be challenged. In fact, interference and sabotaging such commemorative events can be counterproductive and those in power should be mindful of the loss of sentiments. But the contentious issue is not Mullivaikkal commemoration but the cancellation of the annual Victory Day parade at the behest of Western powers. There cannot be any other instance of a country depriving itself of its right to celebrate victory over terrorism. Shame on those politicians who suspended the Victory Day celebrations.

Finally, it was also brought to the notice of the journalists and the panel comprising Sudarshana Gunawardena, Gamini Sumanasekera and Aruna Lokuliyana that the European Union launched  post-war reconciliation project on March 21, 2018 worth Rs 2.7 bn. It was pointed out that the European Union, since 2017, had funded various reconciliation projects to the tune of a staggering Rs. 3.7 bn. Strangely, the EU as well as all those trying to facilitate reconciliation seemed to be determined not to use wartime British High Commission dispatches to prove that (1) 40,000 civilians hadn’t been killed as alleged in UN Panel of Experts’ report released on March 31, 2011 (2) political and military leaderships hadn’t instructed the fighting forces to deliberately target civilians trapped on the Vanni east front and (3) the Army willingly suffered losses as it took civilian factor into consideration as revealed by classified US diplomatic cable originating from its Geneva mission a few months after the conclusion of the war.

Although President Sirisena reiterated at the Armed Forces Commemoration, at Battaramulla, that the military hadn’t been accused of war crimes by the UN, his government co-sponsored the Geneva Resolution on Oct. 1, 2015, on the basis that such atrocities took place on the Vanni front, particularly after the fall of Kilinochchi. President Sirisena maintained that war crimes allegations were propagated by those connected to the LTTE living overseas. Obviously, the government seemed to have conveniently ignored the UN stand on the issue of accountability and pronouncements that the country faced the prospect of Universal Jurisdiction unless Sirisena-Wickremesinghe fulfilled the four key Geneva recommendations, in addition to a brand new Constitution subjected to a referendum. The four specific measures meant to address accountability issues are (1) a judicial mechanism with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international human rights law (2) A Commission for truth, justice, reconciliation and non-recurrence (3) An Office for Missing Persons (OMP) and (4) An Office for reparations.

 This article will be continued in another week



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