Embracing the LTTE Strategy in 2008/09: Norway, USA, UK, France and the Human Rights Conglomerate as Complicit Tiger Allies

 Michael Roberts

 In his wide-ranging autobiographical tale of his numerous engagements in Sri Lanka and for Sri Lanka Michael Lord Naseby has condemned the LTTE for its deployment of so many Tamil civilians as a “human shield” and “bargaining counter” during the last stages of Eelam War IV in 2008/09. Let me, here, endorse the criticism and encompass the Western nations of Norway, USA, Britain and France as well as the Secretariat of the UN under Ban Ki-Moon for becoming de facto partners in this Tiger programme; while noting that several human rights agencies in the West and a few in Sri Lanka became accessories in this high level hostage enterprise.[1]

In early 2008 the LTTE state of Thamilīlam faced a crunch situation because they had lost their logistical warehouse ships in the course of 2007 and they were now hemmed in from north and south by a rejuvenated body of Sri Lankan forces equipped and motivated to whittle down the Tigers’ fighting strength. As the SL Army expanded its hold on the western coast in early 2008, the LTTE induced its people to move eastwards with lock, stock and goods. This process was sustained right through that year and into 2009 when they were locked into an ever-declining pocket of land.

Concurrently, the Tigers ratcheted up their propaganda picture of “an impending humanitarian catastrophe.” The strategic logic was simple:  as the LTTE political commissar Puleedevan informed some friends in Europe —just as in Kosovo if enough civilians died … the world would be forced to step in (a cat let out of the bag by Frances Harrison 2012: 63). This programme was then placed in the hands of Pirapāharan’s former colleague and master mind, KP Pathmanathan, who came out of retirement at the end of 2008 to take control of the Tiger international set-up from his locations in Thailand and Malaysia.

KP’s involvement has been lucidly set out by DBS Jeyaraj in a subsequent pamphlet “KP’ Speaks Out (2011). This document and Mark Salter’s aggressive book indicate that a Western-and-Tiger cabal assembled in Kuala Lumpur in February 2009 to work up plans that would enable them to engineer the rescue (i.e. the escape) of the LTTE leadership to either Eritrea, South Africa or East Timor in the course of a (so-called) humanitarian operation directed to the rescue of the Tamil civilian ‘hostages’. This cabal consisted of two Norwegian diplomats from Oslo, Tore Hattrem (the Norwegian ambassador in Colombo) and two leaders of the Global Tamil Forum, V. Rudrakumaran from New York and Jay Maheswaran from Sydney.

USA was clearly party to this project because a Pacific Air Command recce team landed in Katunayake airport in February on what was clearly a recce mission to work on the logistics of an active US intervention.  Salter is quite arch in not indicating precisely when this recce team visited Sri Lanka, while my inquiries in Sri Lankan have yielded limited information. Bryson Hull, the Reuters man in Colombo and an American, got a whiff of this event and was immediately summoned to the Embassy,[2] where he discovered that the recce team had concluded that the military situation was “a non-permissive environment” for forceful intervention – military jargon summarizing a dangerous task and a perspective clearly guided by the memory of the debacle associated with “Black Hawk down” in Somalia in October 1993.[3]

This caution did not prevent Robert Blake, the US ambassador in Colombo, from verbally and politely brow-beating both Foreign Minister Bogollagama and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa at different points of time in March and April 2009 (normally secret events but now known to us courtesy of Wikileaks).[4] He demanded a stoppage of any military advances and indicated that “war crimes charges” would be the consequence arising from any failure to abide by this command.

That line or pressure was supported by other parties. In early March Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu of the CPA had asked the Sri Lankan government not to direct artillery fire at the territories held by the LTTE; while a whole line of UN officials turned up in Sri Lanka in the period February to April to exert pressure:

John Holmes (Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator for the UN) visited Sri Lanka on the 19-20th February 2009; Tamrat Samuel[5] a little later (date???) and Vijay Nambiar on the 17th April 2009 (with the latter visit probably timed to underline Robert Blake’s veiled threat to Defence Minister Gotabaya a few days previously). Nambiar’s visit was then backed up by the high-powered entry of the British and French Foreign Ministers, Miliband and Kouchner on 29/31st April 2009.[6]

There is no better illustration of this 21st century version of gunboat diplomacy than the stern face of David Miliband throughout his visit. But he was rebuked and rejected by President Rajapaksa[7] …. and the combined forces of the Sri Lankan Army, Navy and Air Force went on with their jobs and overwhelmed the LTTE in a series of operations in the first half of May.

Situation Map, 24 April from Daily Mirror

Situation Map,7-15 May 2009,  from Daily Mirror

This success should not blind us to the intent and machinations of the Western consortium. Fortunately.  Daya Gamage has unearthed the thoughts of an American Under-Secretary of State, one Michael Owens, to guide us in comprehending the reasoning behind the desire to rescue the LTTE leadership. At a “special media briefing 06 May 2009” in Washington, Owens indicated that USA was attempting to secure a surrender of arms by the LTTE in return for “a limited amnesty;” while grappling with the knotty question of what to do with the Tiger leadership.[8]

Owens Rayappu

This disclosure has to be set alongside the evidence unfolded so clearly by KP: the Tiger leaders were seeking a safe haven for themselves; while Pulidevan’s assertion indicates that the Tamil people were manipulated towards that end – with the humanitarian impulse of the West as one target of appeal. The degree to which Eelam stalwarts in the Catholic Church such as Bishop Rayappu Joseph and so many members of the Tamil intelligentsia spread across the globe – guided by fervent Tamil Eelamist thinking — supported this callous project from 2008 right through to the climax is a tragic tale.

While drafting this short essay I chanced upon a fuller account of KP Pathmanathan’s efforts to salvage the LTTE enterprise made public by the efforts of the redoubtable journalist DBS Jeyaraj. This account is pure dynamite that lays bare the 21st century version of nineteenth century gunboat diplomacy with the snow-white Norwegians working in tandem with Imperial USA to impose their military might on Sri Lanka – ostensibly to save the Tamil civilians deployed as hostages by the LTTE; but directed principally towards extracting the LTTE leadership and placing them in their pockets within Eritrea, South Africa or East Timor – no doubt as instruments in their larger plans for their designs in and over Sri Lanka.

The most striking dimensions of this recounting by KP and DBS in their Q and A Session are as follows:

A = The fact that the secret meeting took place in the last week of February 2009.[9]

B = The Norwegian Ambassador Hattrem’s incisive and lucid summary of the battlefield situation and his conclusion that the LTTE was in the process of being overwhelmed. Mark this: “He told us clearly that the Sri Lankan army was right on top of the military situation.………….Speaking to the point the Norwegian envoy said that the LTTE was being boxed into a small piece of territory and that it was only a matter of time before the Army advanced further and annihilated the Tigers. He pointed out that there was absolutely no need for Colombo to agree to a ceasefire at a time when they were sure to defeat the LTTE. He also told us straight that the LTTE was also responsible for the civilian plight. He accused the LTTE of keeping the people as human shields and hostages through force. Hattrem then said that the LTTE could not expect a ceasefire without agreeing to a compromise.”[10]

C = The continued determination of the Western conglomerate to intervene …. a determination pursued even after a body of some 400-500 Tiger troops and key commanders were annihilated at Aanandapuram in early April 2009.[11]

D  = KP’s ingenuity in coming up subsequently with a plan for the LTTE to lock-out their artillery and weaponry under the eye of Western forces who would shepherd the civilians, sequester the Tiger soldiers, and whisk the LTTE leaders away – with, apparently, the Sri Lankan Army, its Navy and its Air Force rendered mute and armless by the superior might and the elevated morality of the West.

Mind-boggling this. Can “humanitarian imperialism” be so blind to its own duplicity and power-games? We know that the West and its interests are not purely directed by a warm heart. The rambling bumbling media briefing served up on the 6th of May 2009 by US Under Secretary of State Michael Owens provides us with a glimpse of the American desire to impose a scheme of political devolution on Sri Lanka on the lines envisaged by its local embassy personnel in the 1980s.[12] Such aspirations simply ignored subsequent developments and the altered character of Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism in its worldwide form under the commanding genius of Pirapāharan and his aides.

Strategic interests in the Indian Ocean must surely have guided these ambitious, incoherent and bumbling American-Norwegian-Western endeavours to save the LTTE leadership. We require American equivalents of Michael Lord Naseby to penetrate the portals of the US civilian and military establishments and disclose their arcane thinking as well as their machinations.

KEY TEXTS

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

Gamage, Daya 2016 “Clinton E-Mail Scandal: Never wanted Sri Lanka LTTE defeated,” Asian Tribune, 27 May 2016, http://www.asiantribune.com/node/89009

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2009a “Theepan of the LTTE: Heroic Saga of a Northern Warrior,” 4 April 2009, http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/5381

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2009b “Anatomy of the LTTE Military Debacle at Aananthapuram,” Sunday Leader, 8 April 2012, http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2012/04/08/anatomy-of-the-ltte-military-debacle-at-aananthapuram/

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

Jeyaraj, D. B. S 2012 “An Interview with Ex-LTTE Chief “KP” – Part 2,” http://www.dailymirror.lk/23730/tech

Jeyaraj, D. B. S 2020 “Rescuing the Tigers in 2009: KP, Norway, and the West,” 8 April 2020, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2020/04/08/rescuing-the-tigers-in-2009-kp-norway-and-the-west/#more-41599 …. Originally presented in 2012(?).

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 2016 “Saving Talaivar Pirapäharan,” 6 April 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/saving-talaivar-pirapaharan/

Roberts, Michael 2016 “David Miliband’s Imperious Intervention in Lanka left in Tatters,” 5 July 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/david-milibands-imperious-intervention-in-lanka-left-in-tatters/

Roberts, Michael 2017 “The LTTE Debacle at Aanandapuram, April 2009,” 5 November 2017,  https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2017/11/05/the-ltte-debacle-at-aanandapuram-april-2009/

Salter, Mark 2015 To End a Civil War. Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka, London: Hurst & Company.

Saravanamuttu, P. 2009 “Unending End Game,” 9 March 2009, http://www.thesundayleader.lk/archive/20090308/issues.htm [no longer extant]

OTHER TEXTS

Bowden, Mark 2019 “The Legacy of Black Hawk Down,” Smithsonian Magazine, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/legacy-black-hawk-down-180971000/

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2009b “The Battle for the Vanni Pocket,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, March 2009, Vol. 35/2, pp. 17-19 — http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/aulimp/citations/gsa/2009_157395/ 156554.html

Harrison, Frances 2012 Still Counting the Dead. Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Hidden War,London: Portobello Books.

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

Marga 2011 Truth and Accountability. The Last Stages of the War in Sri Lanka, http://www.margasrilanka.org/Truth-Accountability.pdf.

Mango 2011 “Jim Macdonald of AI boxed into corner by Mango in 2009,” 10 August 2011, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/3133/

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

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 Tamil Person and State. Essays, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publishers.

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

Roberts, Michael 2014 “Ball-by-Ball through Wikileaks: US Embassy Despatches from Colombo, 2009: ONE,” 27 August 2014https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/ball-by-ball-through-wikileaks-us-embassy-despatches-from-colombo-2009-one/

Roberts, Michael  2014 Truth Journalism? Marie Colvin hoist on her own Petard,” 5 November 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/triuth-journalism-marie-colvin-hoist-on-her-own-petard/

Roberts, Michael 2018 “Reflections: Interpreting the Gash Files, IV,” 29 August 2018, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2018/04/29/reflections-interpreting-the-gash-files-iv/

Roberts, Michael 2018 “The Western World’s Cumulous Clouds of Deception: Blanketing the Sharp Realities of Eelam War IV,” 16 October 2018, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2018/10/16/the-western-worlds-cumulous-clouds-of-deception-blanketing-the-sharp-realities-of-eelam-war-iv/

Roberts, Michael 2019  “Ludicrous Verdicts in Powerful Quarters Still Asserted TODAY: Death Toll in Eelam War IV Magnified Manifold,”  2 December 2019, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2019/12/02/ludicrous-verdicts-in-powerful-quarters-still-asserted-today-death-toll-in-eelam-war-iv-magnified-manifold/

END NOTES

[1] This short article was sent to some editorial personnel in the print and e-media in Sri Lanka on the 3/4th April. They apparently have other fish to fry and are ‘corona-vided’ — unlike Colombo Telegraph which accepted the article in its ‘nude’ form [without Endnotes and Bibliography].

[2] When I contacted Bryson Hull (in retirement in New York) in 2018, I was under the impression that this set of events was in April. I now realise that it was in February 2009. We can safely assume that Hull met the Military Attache (presumably Col Lawrence Smith). In what is pure guesswork, I suppose that that the PAC team in Katunayake had met senior SL military men and received a briefing which underlined the difficulties of forceful foreign intervention. For the US Ambassador Blake to threaten the Minister of Defence with ‘war crime charges” in April 2009 and for a senior hand in the Washington secretariat (Owens) to envisage a military intervention in May 2009 that could pluck out the Tiger leaders and ‘save’ the remaining civilian mass are instances of brazen bravado combined with mind-boggling idiocy.

[3] The US special forces team that attempted to give the Somali war lords a bloody nose in October 1993 received a brutal lesson. Two Black Hawk helicopters were shot sown by rocket-propelled grenades and “an 18-hour urban firefight, later known as the Battle of Mogadishu, left 18 Americans and hundreds of Somalis dead. News outlets broadcast searing images of jubilant mobs dragging the bodies of dead Army special operators and helicopter crewmen through the streets of Mogadishu. The newly elected U.S. president, Bill Clinton, halted the mission and ordered the Special Forces out by March 31, 1994” (Bowden 2019).

[4] See Roberts, “Saving Talaivar Pirapaharan,” 2016 and Roberts “Ball-by-Ball through Wikileaks: US Embassy Despatches from Colombo, 2009: ONE,” 2014.

[5] Tamrat Samuel was South Asian Affairs Officer at the UN and happens to be of Eritrean background. The LTTE had secured some of its arms in the past from Eritrea – indeed, If memory serves me right, KP’s ability to secure a shipment from Eritrea andit land it on the shores of Tamilnadu in the mid-1980s provided the LTTE with an edge in its competition with TELO. EPRLF and other militant organisations who were dependent on Indian arms

[6] See http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2009/04/miliband-kouchner-arrive-in-lanka.html, Note that the Foreign Minister of Sweden was also planning to be part of this team; but his participation was rejected by Sri Lanka.

[7] Roberts, “David Miliband’s Imperious Intervention in Lanka left in Tatters,” 2016.

[8] See Roberts, “Saving Talaivar Pirapaharan,” 2016 and Gamage 2014 & 2016. Note some details in Salter 2015: 0000.

[9] Mark Salter does not provide the date of the meeting – surely a deliberate omission (one that is in keeping with his chutzpah and brazen bravado).

[10] Jeyaraj 2020 [2012].

[11] See Jeyaraj 2009a and 2009b; and Roberts 2017.

[12] See Gamage 2014 for this briefing. Gamage served in the US Embassy from the 1970s to 1990s and brings this experience into his disclosures.

*************

A SPECIAL NOTE; EMAIL from DAYA GAMAGE in USA, 10 April 2020:

Prof, …  Eighty five percent of State Department personnel either the Foreign Service guys or Civil Servants(attached to that department)  are staunch LIBERALS/White Evangelicals who are concerned about minority rights (except in the US), human rights, rule of law and American exceptionalism. The US policy toward Sri Lanka – from the mid 1980s up to today- – has been governed by the 1984 joint document authored by the CIA and South Asia division of the State Department, and that’s why Washington never gave military equipment to Sri Lanka even during the JRJ era. Pentagon/Defense Department personnel are very different, and both the State and Defense many a time don’t see eye to eye……………………...
Stay Safe – Daya
++ Daya was a student at Peradeniya when I was lecturing in the Sinhala medium in the late 1960s and early 1970s and joined the US Embassy as a staffer on completing his degree. This service enabled him to get entry with citizenship rights to USA. He clearly remains a Sri Lankan at heart.

4 Comments

Filed under accountability, american imperialism, authoritarian regimes, British imperialism, centre-periphery relations, communal relations, conspiracies, disparagement, Eelam, ethnicity, historical interpretation, human rights, Indian Ocean politics, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, nationalism, patriotism, politIcal discourse, power politics, prabhakaran, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, Tamil Tiger fighters, truth as casualty of war, UN reports, world events & processes

4 responses to “Embracing the LTTE Strategy in 2008/09: Norway, USA, UK, France and the Human Rights Conglomerate as Complicit Tiger Allies

  1. Dilshan

    Hi, Michael if you have not read yet , would be good if you could review and give us your inputs of the following titles.

    Paradise Afire. Volume 1: The Sri Lankan War, 1971-1987
    Paradise Afire Volume 2: The Sri Lankan War, 1987-1990
    Paradise Afire Volume 3: The Sri Lankan War, 1990-1994

    Author :Adrien Fontanellaz

    Ta

  2. Pingback: Reading Stephen Champion’s Photo Event in 2008 …. Today 2020 | Thuppahi's Blog

  3. Pingback: Thuppahi's Blog

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