Sept. 2010: Former Indian Army Chief Gen. V.K. Singh at the IPKF memorial in Colombo
It would be pertinent to discuss accountability on the part of India, as regards the spread of terrorism in the region in the light of an unprecedented attempt made by Sri Lanka based Maldivian Abdulla Luthufee to use Indian trained People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) to overthrow the then Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in Nov 1988.
The international community largely ignored Indian destabilisation efforts directed at Sri Lanka in the 1980s and the subsequent raid on Male by one of the groups working closely with the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) deployed in the temporarily merged Northern and Eastern Province. At the time of the PLOTE assault on Male on Nov 3, 1988, it had been involved in para-military operations in support of the IPKF. In fact, it was one of the groups which operated under direct Indian supervision, having won the confidence of those running the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), at that time.
Unfortunately, due to the failure on the part of successive Sri Lankan governments, the Indian operation had never been thoroughly studied. A simple example is that many still believed that India had no option but to intervene here in the wake of the July 1983 anti-Tamil riots.
The LTTE attacked an army mobile patrol at Tinnaveli close to midnight on July 23, 1983. Although the LTTE killed a soldier in late Oct 1981 and carried out sporadic attacks on the army, there had never been an operation similar to that of the Thinnaveli ambush. The LTTE killed 13 of the 15-man patrol launched from Gurunagar and it had a demoralising impact on the army. The backlash in the southern parts of the country and the reaction of the JRJgovernment paved the way for a full scale Indian intervention. It was no secret that a section of the UNP administration turned a blind eye to the riots and in fact encouraged its supporters to go on the rampage. But the central issue is who trained the LTTE to mount a formal ambush by using landmines with devastating success. The LTTE couldn’t have acquired expertise overnight to wipe out an army patrol. It would be also important to look at the timing of the attack, which coincided with the TULF’s decision to quit Parliament.
Sri Lanka is busy responding to international criticism of the conduct of its troops during the eelam war. The government recently unveiled an action plan on the basis of recommendations made by the LLRC. Unfortunately, the government has failed to give due attention to Dhanapala’s recommendations.
Former diplomat T. D. S. A. Dissanayake described the terrorist attack in his book ‘The Agony of Sri Lanka’, the relevant extract of which is produced below: “As the crucial week end of July 23rd – 24th 1983 approached, it was increasingly clear that the TULF would decide at the Annual Convention, that their Members of Parliament resign their seats. In fact, on July 21st, 1983, when they last assembled in Parliament, Mr. V. N. Navaratnam (TULF – Chavakachcheri) delivered an emotional farewell address and the Leader of the Opposition exchanged words with the Prime Minister on the futility of a Round Table Conference.”
Indian Air Force played an important role in support of ground operations, particularly in the northern region. Pic released by Indian Air Force of a crew based in Sri Lanka’s north.
It is important to establish the exact period during which India set up training facilities for Sri Lankan terrorists and inquire into the circumstances under which Sri Lankan terrorists received military training in the Middle East.
C. A. Chandraprema in his ‘Gota’s War: The Crushing of Tamil terrorism’ explains direct Indian intelligence operations in Sri Lanka in the mid 1980s. Chandraprema tells us how an EROS cadre named Neranjan exploded a bomb inside the Central Telegraph Office in Colombo in early May 1986 (The LTTE gains supremacy––Chapter 23). Chandraprema quotes the then National Security Minister, Lalith Athulathmudali, as having told Indian ministers Natwar Singh and P. Chidambaram that RAW was behind the destruction of a Tri Star aircraft belonging to SriLankan Airlines on the tarmac at the Bandaranaike International Airport a few days before the CTO attack. The Indian delegation was in Colombo when terrorists blew up the Tri Star.
At the recent launch of Chandraprema’s work, Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga highlighted the Indian role. He didn’t mince his words when he asserted that Sri Lanka was a victim of Indian policy. In fact, the LTTE couldn’t have transformed itself from a ragtag army into one of the world’s most ruthless terrorist outfits without foreign assistance. India was allowed to do as it pleased.
Those demanding accountability on the part of Sri Lanka as regards unsubstantiated allegations made by the UK’s Channel 4 production ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ and ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished’ have never bothered to inquire into the events leading to eelam war IV in Aug 2006.
The British media never cared to examine how the LTTE’s campaign of death and destruction ultimately forced Sri Lanka to go all-out against terrorism. Interestingly, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who made a last minute attempt with the help of his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner in April 2009 to throw a lifeline to the LTTE, played a pivotal role in the second Channel 4 documentary. It would be pertinent to conduct a thorough study on the circumstances under which India subverted Sri Lanka, deployed its army here on the pretext of implementing the Indo-Lanka accord, and most importantly, the LTTE’s impact on international terrorism, et al.
One of Sri Lanka’s famed diplomats discussed the issue of accountability when he addressed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), headed by one-time Attorney General C. R. de Silva. In fact, Jayantha Dhanapala, one-time UN bigwig and head of Sri Lanka’s Peace Secretariat on Aug 25, 2010 commented on India’s role. Unfortunately, the LLRC didn’t take notice of Dhanapala’s assertion as regards accountability on the part of foreign governments, which promoted terrorism to undermine other countries. Dhanapala, in his submissions said: “Now I think it is important for us to expand that concept to bring in the culpability of those members of the international community who have subscribed to the situation that has caused injury to the civilians of a nation. I talk about the way in which terrorist groups are given sanctuary; are harboured; are supplied with arms and training by some countries with regard to their neighbours or with regard to other countries. We know that in our case this has happened, and I don’t want to name countries, but even countries who have allowed their financial procedures and systems to be abused in such a way that money can flow from their countries in order to buy arms and ammunition that cause the deaths, the maiming and the destruction of property in Sri Lanka are to blame and there is therefore a responsibility to protect our civilians and the civilians of other nations from that kind of behaviour on the part of members of the international community. And I think this is something that will echo within many countries in the Non-Aligned Movement, where Sri Lanka has a much respected position and where I hope we will be able to raise this issue.”
Dhanapala also stressed on the accountability on the part of Western governments, which had conveniently turned a blind eye to massive fund raising operations in their countries in support of LTTE operations. It was no secret that the LTTE would never have been able to emerge as a conventional fighting force without having adequate funds to procure arms, ammunition and equipment. There also were legal proceedings, which revealed the LTTE acquiring certain items and expertise from Europe as well as Australia, enabling the group to mount bomb attacks.
Interestingly, even after the conclusion of the conflict, the Tamil Diaspora continued to raise funds abroad, regardless of tough international laws against clandestine operations. In spite of the collapse of its fighting capability on May 19, 2009, the LTTE’s financial network largely remains intact.
The GoSL hasn’t acted on Dhanapala’s sound advice so far. Sri Lanka should present its case before the international community, particularly at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Geneva. The forthcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) could give the government the opportunity to repeat what Dhanapala said before the LLRC in August 2010. India is among the troika appointed by the UNHRC to facilitate the UPR process. Having voted against Sri Lanka at the 19th session of the UNHRC, Geneva last Feb/March, the ‘God Father’ of terrorism here is now part of the troika. The international community couldn’t ignore one of its own, a respected UN diplomat, who represented the interests of the global community
In the wake of Dhanapala’s recommendation as regards those countries which facilitated LTTE operations by way of fund raising, it must be pointed out that the majority of them still allowed the same in their countries. The UK is an example, where those representing the LTTE’s macabre eelam project, still have direct access to the House of Commons, and work closely with INGOs and the media.
Dhanapala also made some valuable suggestions as regards the subject of International Humanitarian Law. He asserted that rules of war as of today couldn’t address the difficulties experienced by regular armies and amendments were necessary. Dhanapala said: ” The primary purpose of International Humanitarian Law is the protection of civilians, and we have been exposed to a terrorist group who used child soldiers unconscionably; who used civilians as human shields and who used suicide bombers to cause mindless destruction of property and the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. How does a conventional Army of a nation state pursue a conflict with that kind of combatant? The rules of war as they exist today do not cater for that situation. We would be providing something innovative to the international community if we can discuss amongst our outstanding international lawyers here – and we have a galaxy of talent from Judge Weeramanthri to Dr. Rohan Perera to Dr. Lakshman Marasinghe and many others – who could all form a brains trust on behalf of the Government, engage with the International Committee of the Red Cross, the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, the 4 Treaties and the 3 Additional Protocols which today constitute International Humanitarian Law, in order to try to give some guidance to armies of nation states as to how they should react to such a situation. We were very fortunate that in the end game of our conflict in May of 2009, we were able, through the bravery of our own Army, to save ourselves the possible holocaust of 300,000 civilians dying in the final stage. The earth bund behind which they were held as human shields was breached at great sacrifice by our Army and we were able therefore to minimise civilian losses. I do not think we have an accurate estimate as to what the civilian losses were in the crossfire, but there were civilian losses. The tragedy would have been much greater if not for the bravery of our soldiers. But what if there was a tragedy greater than what happened? We would have been then denigrated in the eyes of the international community for no other reason but for the fact that these civilians were being held as human shields. We have to I think engage first of all the ICRC and then the rest of the international community in order to perhaps convene a diplomatic conference to discuss the formulation of a new protocol with regard to combat with non state actors. This is a phenomenon that is taking place all over the world and I think the marshalling of international opinion on this issue will be one of the contributions that we can make in the codification of international humanitarian law.”
Unfortunately, the government has not acted on Dhanapala’s second major recommendation. Perhaps, Sri Lanka hasn’t treated the two most important recommendations made to the LLRC, which could have been part of Sri Lanka’s defence at international fora.