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Monday, 19 September 2011

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Addressing concerns about treatment of surrendees

What is termed the White Flag case has caused much controversy over the last two years. A number of different versions have been advanced as to what has happened, and debate over this will not die down. Sarath Fonseka, both when he was serving as Chief of the General Staff, and when he was a Presidential candidate, is alleged to have made statements about the matter, and government has also kept the matter in the public eye through a case that has been brought against Fonseka. It is clearly not a matter that can be ignored.

What seems uncontested is that several LTTE operatives, including the head of its political wing, the former Sri Lankan policeman Nadesan, and the head of the LTTE Peace Secretariat, Pulidevan, were killed in the last days of the war. As Pulidevan's counterpart in Colombo, I feel a particular interest in his fate, though he never spoke to me in spite of several efforts to get in touch.

Intransigence

As for Nadesan, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, which tried to help me make contact, thought he was more inclined to talk than his predecessor, and actually called me from Kilinochchi to say contact might be possible. But that too came to nothing, and I feel that any positive feelings he might have had fell prey to his leader's intransigence.

To get back to his fate, it is also not contested that our Foreign Secretary, Palitha Kohona, now Ambassador to the UN, was in contact with those who were trying to arrange a surrender, and made suggestions as to how this should be accomplished. What is in doubt is whether Palitha conveyed this to the Sri Lankan government and obtained assurances of safety.

Harsh allegations

On the basis of this uncertainty, harsh allegations have been made against Dr Kohona, including a charge of war crimes. I suspect this was done when it was rumoured that he might be appointed as our High Commissioner to London, and the matter may now be forgotten. But one reason I believe an inquiry is necessary is that his name should be cleared of what seems to me unfair denigration. The impression sought to be created is that he got involved, not because he was trying to help, but because he intended to betray those who might act as he recommended. I believe that to be a ridiculous charge, not only because it is not at all in character, but also because the policy of the Sri Lankan government throughout, as exemplified by its current relations with former LTTE leaders who came into its custody, is to work with them if possible in the primary goal of eliminating terrorism and terrorist inclinations. Mr Nadesan would, if the SLMM were right, have been a positive element in this regard, and Mr Pulidevan, who had also been sidelined at the end by the LTTE leadership, would have followed suit.

Pulidevan and Nadesan

The allegations against Dr Kohona, and by extension the Sri Lankan government, are not only absurd, the stories that have emerged suggest clearly that they are false. Conversely, while it is possible that Pulidevan and Nadesan and others with them did not carry white flags with them when they emerged into areas under full government control in the midst of heavy fighting, that possibility too seems unlikely, given the communications that had taken place, and the different approach they seem to have taken from the rest of the LTTE leadership.

At the same time it cannot be discounted that the communications were part of a strategy to facilitate the escape of others whilst they were distracting the forces. That is a possibility that, even if they had known of the discussions that had taken place, which is not established, the Sri Lankan forces on the ground would have had to keep in mind.

In the heat of battle

Assuming that this group of potential surrendees was genuine and indeed carried white flags, it is possible that the forces they came across did not see the flags in the heat of battle. It is possible that they saw them but, fearful of ploys used by suicide cadres pretending to surrender, they felt they could not take the risk of being killed themselves. And it is also possible that, seeing a large group of individuals who were obviously cadres, they eliminated them as the Americans did Osama bin Laden, even when he was not a threat to them, in the belief that he would otherwise continue an insidious danger.

To be continued

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