Archive for November 8th, 2007

Politics apart, the failure of the SLA to effectively gauge enemy alertness and preparations ahead of a planned offensive is alarming, and may even be an institutional problem. The alarm is also due to the repetition of the problem without solution.

Western systems of warfare, which many Commanders of established armies have adopted without question, stress technological means of collecting information about an enemy. These systems are Network Centric Warfare (NCW) systems similar to those adopted by the United States in Iraq for example. These strategies place emphasis on operation planning using high-tech information and sharing such information with a network of units for operational success.

In modern warfare involving insurgent and terrorist groups, no technology can replace the skill of the infantryman in gaging enemy intent, readiness and critical-mass by actual observations through effective infiltration. In the recent case in Muhamalai, the finger seem to point at a lack of reparation, possibly due to an operational plan put together for a political agenda.

Military operations against insurgents without covert passive surveillance and human intelligence (HUMINT) is doomed from very inception. Mission success is contingent upon last-minute updates on target sets by human intelligence. Special Operations Forces (SOF) and combat scout units that use hide and conceal tactics are the primary sources of tactical information for field commanders. Deployment of such independent units and obtaining necessary information up to the last minute requires investment in time, expertise and experience.

Muhamalai and Kilali, which do not provide adequate natural cover for effective hide and conceal by SOF is further reason for better planning over a longer period of time. Human Intelligence has the crucial task of identifying tactically sound assembly points, fire bases and assault positions for follow-on forces inside enemy territory until the very beginning of the operation. If this procedure was followed to rule, instead of a political agenda as some have observed, the outcomes of last morning’s battle would have been quite different.


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Damning evidence has surfaced that the Government smuggled LTTE renegade commander Karuna to Great Britain on a forged diplomatic passport.

An investigation by The Morning Leader revealed that the forged diplomatic passport was issued by the Immigration Department on the orders of higher authorities in the name of Kokila Gunawardena on August 30, 2007.

It has been further revealed that Karuna was issued a valid British visa in the name of Kokila Gunawardena by the High Commission in Colombo on September 5 on a recommendation by Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry.

The Morning Leader investigation revealed that the Foreign Ministry had sent a Third Party Note to the British High Commission in Colombo together with a number of passports recommending visas for a group of persons to attend a climate change conference in Britain and included in the set of passports was a diplomatic passport in the name of Kokila Gunawardena.

Gunawardena was recommended for the visa as an official representing a department coming under the Environment Ministry of JHU’s Champika Ranawaka.

It is now revealed that Karuna travelled to Britain on the passport which was in the name of Kokila Gunawardena and landed at the Heathrow airport on September 18. It had also been reported that Karuna was accompanied to the aircraft at the Bandaranaike International Airport to board the London flight by Airport and Aviation deputy chief Shalitha Wijesundera who is yet to deny the reports.

Sources in England said Karuna was arrested by the British authorities in London in a house in the affluent Kensington area where his wife and three children were residing. The diplomatic passport in the possession of Karuna under the name ‘Kokila Gunawardena’ was also taken into custody by the British authorities at the time of arrest.

The Morning Leader further learns, Karuna had asked for political asylum upon being arrested. Karuna’s wife and three children had earlier entered Britain legitimately and applied for political asylum and those applications are now being processed.

The Morning Leader also learns Karuna is currently under interrogation by the British Anti Terrorism Liason Unit.

Secretary to the Foreign Affairs Ministry Palitha Kohona contacted by The Morning Leader said he was certain his ministry would not have recommended a visa for Karuna to the British high Commission. He however refused to comment when asked whether a visa could have been recommended for him under a false identity stating he was not obliged to answer such questions or be subjected to cross examination.

On the question of the procedure involved in the issuance of a diplomatic passport, Kohona said that question should be directed to the department of Immigration since they were the issuing authority.

Asked who decides whether an individual is entitled to a diplomatic passport, Kohona said it was the department of Immigration.

However a spokesperson for the Department of Immigration told The Morning Leader that on the issuance of a diplomatic passport they only act on the directives and recommendations of the President, President’s office or the Foreign Ministry.

The spokesperson said the President’s office sends a list of persons entitled to a diplomatic passport by virtue of their office and that in addition the President can authorise the issuance of such a passport to any individual. He said the Foreign Ministry can also recommend the issuance of a diplomatic passport.

The British High Commission when contacted declined to comment on the issue stating there was an on going investigation following Karuna’s arrest in London.


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The Sri Lanka Army lost 20 men and over 100 others were injured while attempting to breach the LTTE Forward Defence Line at Kilali. 15 LTTE have also been killed. The thrust made by the 55th Division came from Kilali and Muhamalai SLA FDLs. It was unfortunately boxed-in and attacked by the LTTE, which, according to Field Commanders looked like a well rehearsed and prepared strategy following information leaks of an impending advance from that sector. However, contrary to Pro-LTTE media this was not a major military operation and was a limited operation to neutralize the offensive formations of the LTTE along the lagoon. Not a single man was left behind by troops whose objective was never to hold the ground in either case. No Main Battle Tanks were also lost in the attack contrary to the reports of some media. Some infantry weapons left behind by troops have been seized by the LTTE and pictures strewn all over the Internet as part of its propaganda campaign. The heavy air traffic experienced above Jaffna skies is also customary when a battle is going.

Some Field Commanders expressed amazement at the amount of visible preparations made for the assault during the last few weeks. This and other planning shortcomings have been well studied by the LTTE in this sector as evidenced by Muhamalai I where over 300 soldiers were killed and eight Battle-tanks destroyed. Prior to both these assaults, small LTTE recce teams were observed moving in and out of the area measuring troop strength in Kilali and Muhamalai. The area, lying adjacent to the lagoon, provides ample opportunities for infiltration and reconnaissance.


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Heavy fighting between Sri Lankan troops and Tamil Tiger rebels Wednesday left a large number killed or wounded, both sides said.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said they had resisted a Sri Lankan military advance backed by helicopter gunships into their territory on Wednesday, losing one of their cadres in the attack.

But Sri Lanka’s defence ministry said that 52 Tigers were killed together with 11 government soldiers. The ministry said another 40 government soldiers were wounded.

The losses came as the LTTE defended its forward positions in the Muhamalai area of the peninsula, the northern part of which is held by government troops. “Scores” of Tigers were also wounded, the ministry said.

However, the LTTE in a statement said they killed 20 government soldiers and wounded another 100 in around two hours of fighting.

The two sides’ claims could not be independently verified.

Residents near an air base here said they saw ambulances rushing out, indicating that military casualties were being flown to the capital.

In other fighting, the defence ministry said two Tiger rebels were killed in two separate battles in Muhamalai in the Jaffna peninsula on Tuesday.

Tens and thousands of people have died since the Tamil Tigers launched their campaign for an independent Tamil homeland in 1972.

The government and rebels had agreed to a Norwegian-brokered truce in 2002, but the peace process began to unravel in December 2005.


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United States Senator Patrick Joseph Leahy recently delivered a statement on Sri Lanka which has been described as damning. The use made of the international community by local elements which, as an American put it, have an ‘unhealthy nostalgia for the Wickremesinghe regime’, is not surprising. However Senator Leahy must be taken seriously since he seems to have been behind an amendment in the Senate that ‘attached three conditions to our assistance to the Sri Lankan military’.

Before addressing these conditions, it may be as well to deal first with the misconception under which Senator Leahy is suffering, which suggests that, in making several admirable general points, he may not quite understand their applicability or otherwise to Sri Lanka. Though he made clear his appreciation of why the LTTE ‘has been designated by the Department of State and the European Union as a foreign terrorist organization’, he says that ‘we are also aware that the LTTE has, at times, shown a willingness to participate in serious negotiations, as well as to respond to human rights concerns. These overtures should be pursued.’

LTTE refusal to negotiate

Sadly, Senator Leahy, like most foreign observers of the Sri Lankan scene, has no sense of time. This is accompanied by an imprecise use of English, doubtless promoted by those who have said loud and often that the Sri Lankan government is responsible for the breakdown of peace talks. Senator Leahy is more circumspect than most, in qualifying with the words ‘at times’, his perception of the past willingness of the LTTE, regarding which the use of the perfect tense seems inappropriate. But then he moves to a present tense modal verb, which makes no sense given factual realities.

In short, there are no overtures to be pursued, unless he is talking about the overtures of the Sri Lankan government, which the LTTE has steadfastly rejected. Mr. Leahy is doubtless not aware that, having participated in peace talks with the then Sri Lankan government for about a year from 2002 to 2003, the LTTE withdrew suddenly after the 6th round in April 2003. The government in office then seemed to be bending over backwards in the eyes of most Sri Lankans to keep the LTTE happy, but nevertheless they withdrew. They then repudiated all attempts even by President Kumaratunga, who took over the reins of government from April 2004 to nearly the end of 2005, to resume peace talks.

In 2006 they came for talks in February with the recently elected government of President Rajapakse but then, having traveled to Norway, they refused in June, to the evident embarrassment of the Norwegian facilitators, to even begin talking. In October 2006 they negotiated on the first day and then, as a British representative in Sri Lanka put it, there was a sudden call from Kilinochchi and they withdrew.

Despite the Sri Lankan government being anxious to resume talks, and indeed saying as much through the facilitator and otherwise, the Norwegian ambassador on his last visit made it clear that the LTTE was unwilling to talk.

The movement to war of the LTTE Peace Secretariat and Political Wing

Indeed, to look at small things too, in June 2007 the Sri Lankan Peace Secretariat tried to reactivate its hotline to the LTTE Peace Secretariat in Kilinochchi. My staff spoke in Tamil to the lady who answered and asked that contact be re-established, but it seemed my counterpart was not available. A request that he call back was ignored.

I had also mentioned our desire to talk to the Norwegian ambassador and the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, and the minutes of our meeting of 12th July record that the SLMM Head of Mission (HoM) ‘welcomed SG’s initiative of trying to reestablish communication between the two peace secretariats. He offered himself to facilitate a line of communication between the two Peace Secretariats’. However, on 30th August, the minutes record that ‘Mr. Pulideevan had rejected SG’s suggestion to contact him. HoM said that Mr. Pulideevan was of the view that the environment at the moment is not conducive for the parties to communicate as the LTTE were in a warlock situation with GOSL’.

Mr. Leahy thus needs to be aware that the LTTE, though ‘at times’ willing to negotiate, has been in that mode only for very brief periods during the last five years. It withdrew from negotiations with two governments and refused ever to negotiate with the third even though requesting and obtaining financial and other concessions from it. Furthermore, it must be recognized that, despite the propaganda that seems to have taken in the LTTE as well as Mr. Leahy, its political leader Mr. Tamilselvan, was withdrawn from talks last year after the phone call from Kilinochchi, and ‘had of late preferred military clothes’ as was clearly stated in a newspaper usually very critical of the government.

Certainly, at the time of the last visit to LTTE territory by the Norwegian ambassador, it made clear its determination to attack economic as well as military targets. And as though to make it clear that it had foreclosed the peace option, when Black Tigers attacked the Anuradhapura Air Base, the LTTE Peace Secretariat celebrated this suicide squad by highlighting pictures of them together with Tiger Leader Prabhakaran before being sent to their deaths.

Confusing Problems with Governmental Complicity

It is in this context that the rest of Senator Leahy’s statement must be read. He is certainly right in stating that there are human rights problems, but he cannot leap from that to the assertion that ‘the Sri Lankan government’s respect for human rights and rule of law has deteriorated even outside conflict-affected areas’. Such an assertion would be on par with allegations against the American or British governments because there are significant abuses of human rights by official personnel, and not only with regard to the war on terror.

I suspect Senator Leahy is very different from the representative of the International Commission of Jurists who addressed the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and declared that there were four countries where grave violations of Human Rights took place, namely Myanmar (I think), Sudan, Sri Lanka and the United States, but I think he would appreciate the fact that highlighting the occurrence of violations and holding governments responsible are two very different things. Conflating the two puts him in the category of the ICJ that, having assumed wrongly that there was an irreconcilable difference between two experts as to the caliber of a bullet, assumed that the foreigner must be right, the Sri Lankan must be wrong, and this was evidence of tampering with the object by the Sri Lankan government.

He also claims, citing the Millennium Challenge Corporation, that ‘The serious human rights abuses and excessive restrictions on freedom of speech and association by the government of Sri Lanka merit the country’s removal from a list of eligible recipients for US Millennium Challenge Account assistance’.

He obviously has not read the plethora of Sri Lankan newspapers that attack the government (and its human rights record) at every conceivable opportunity, or monitored the electronic media that denigrates the government and its armed forces whenever possible. Had he only been around in the days when the media was entirely state controlled, he would not have cited such generalizations which are so demonstrably false – in comparison with the much more forceful if subtle restrictions on reporting imposed by other states engaged in wars against terror.

Untenable assumptions about impunity

Finally he repeats the three conditions regarding military assistance, two of which seem unquestionable. The first is that the Sri Lankan government brings to justice ‘members of the military who have been credibly alleged to have committed gross violations of human rights’. He seems unaware that this is happening, and not only with members of the military. Indeed, as the SLMM have indicated, the record of the military is comparatively good, and there have been very few cases in which there is credible evidence against them. The record of the police is less positive, but a committee has been appointed to make recommendations with regard to Human Rights Training for the Police, and preliminary suggestions have already been submitted.

Meanwhile, with regard to actual bringing to justice, arrests have already been made with regard to the Thandikulam case, which was one of those referred to the Commission of Inquiry, while six members of the armed forces were placed under arrest regarding abductions, following which abductions in Colombo have largely ceased. 90 persons have been indicted since 2004 for torture. Meanwhile the Public Complaints and Investigations Division of the National Police Commission has completed 382 of the 1216 complaints made in the first seven months of this year, with 4% of the total allegations referring to torture, 7% to unlawful arrest and 1% to death in custody.

All this may not be perfect, but where the rule of law obtains, and where there is a presumption of innocence unless proved guilty, justice is necessarily slow. Without referring to delays and what seem to the rest of the world unjustifiable acquittals in the American system with regard to allegations against forces personnel, I should just cite a recent British newspaper report on a problem in Iraq – ‘Harrowing accounts of the treatment of Iraqis by British troops in an incident in which a detainee died will be handed to the high court…They say 10 Iraqis seized in a Basra hotel in September 2003 were tortured…The incident led to a court martial in which the MoD admitted the Iraqis were violently treated. One soldier, Corporal Donald Payne, pleaded guilty to inhumane treatment; six others, including Colonel Jorge Mendonca, commander of the 1st battalion the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, were acquitted of negligence and abuse…The MoD is conducting an internal investigation into the incident.’ This is 2007, the inquest into Princess Diana’s death in 1997 is being conducted now, but it is not likely that Senator Leahy would suggest sanctions against Britain too.

Constructing non-existent problems

The second condition relates to ending ‘unreasonable restrictions on access in the country by humanitarian organizations and journalists’. There are no such restrictions since such people are readily allowed access not only to areas under government control but even to LTTE controlled areas provided there are no security problems. The Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance, on which UN bodies are well represented, looks at questions of access and can discuss problems if any, but these have not figured to any appreciable extent in recent meetings.

Finally Senator Leahy wants Sri Lanka to ‘agree to the establishment of a field presence of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka.’ This perhaps is an area where Senator Leahy has information not accessible to the Sri Lankan government since that Office has not formally made a request for a field presence. Significantly though, anti-government elements ranging from the LTTE to the opposition claimed before the visit of the High Commissioner that such a request (or rather one for a Monitoring Mission) would be made, and then claimed afterwards that it had been made.

It should be added that subsequently at least one paper that had headlined this assertion admitted in an editorial that such a request had not in fact been advanced.

As it stands, the government is engaged in discussions with the Office how Human Rights mechanisms can be strengthened. It may be the case that some elements in the High Commissioner’s Office are anxious to establish a field presence. Indeed one member of her entourage told me this would be a good idea, not least because – not to criticize colleagues in other UN agencies he said – her office could deal more professionally with questions of Human Rights. It is possible that such a request may come in time, but it seems premature of Senator Leahy to ask now for agreement for something that has so far been advanced only by those who have placed themselves in opposition to the Sri Lankan government, some of whom have allied themselves conclusively with the opposition or the LTTE, who talk categorically of ‘the consensus that prevailed in 2000-2004 period’ without seeming to realize that the electorate convincingly chose something else both in 2004 and in 2005.

Such persons may not have great faith in democracy, but as Forster put it, that is the best system we can have. It needs to be combined with the rule of law and pluralism, and that is why we should look carefully at the concerns Senator Leahy has expressed and deal with them as possible through the development of strong institutional safeguards. But it would be very sad if, because of misinformation and the general proliferation of prejudice against the elected government, the democracy that Sri Lanka and the United States shares is subverted in the ultimate interests of terrorists, who will be the only beneficiaries of concerted weakening of the elected Sri Lankan government.


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