The recent seminar on Countering Terrorism was a rich and enlightening experience. It helped me to understand further the deep sense of hurt that our military and political officials feel about the swarm of attacks they now have to face with regard to allegations of war crimes. I had known earlier from the statistics I collected from daily TamilNet reports that we had done our best to fight a clean and careful war. Until the end of 2008 we had succeeded, in the Eastern Province, and also during the whole operation to retake the Western part of the Wanni. Even then though, we had to face allegations that had no basis whatsoever in fact, as with the Human Rights Watch claim that we had engaged in indiscriminate attacks on civilians in the East.

The Report that accompanied this assertion, which hardly anyone read in full then, which has now been forgotten though the sensationalistic claim still reverberates, makes it clear that there had been only one incident in which civilians had died. That had been caused by mortar locating radar, with the LTTE having been proved to have been inside a refugee centre, bearing weapons and with bunkers having been prepared.

Human Rights Watch grants this but claims that there is no evidence that the LTTE used heavy weapons. Sadly, in their zeal to target the Sri Lankan government, they omitted to put on record the obvious demand, that the LTTE should not use refugee centres as places from which to fire. The stunning silence of the now hysterical international community seems to have encouraged the LTTE to use this tactic with impunity again and again.

That is obviously what happened in 2009, so that obviously there were civilian casualties. This does not take away from the Government policy of trying to ensure zero civilian casualties, though obviously they did not succeed in this. But, with clear evidence that the LTTE fired from amongst civilians and from near hospitals and other centres of humanitarian activity, with clear records of civilians having been killed by LTTE fire in such situations (as witnessed by the UN Resident Coordinator in January 2009) and also through deliberate targeting when civilians tried to escape, with multifold incidents of exaggerated claims that were later toned down, we still face a situation in which Government is declared guilty with no sifting of the facts to attempt to understand the real situation.

This is a tribute to the skill of those in the pro-LTTE diaspora who, though I believe a small minority of the Tamils abroad, have the money and the contacts to get their message across. But unfortunately the current spate of attacks seems to have coincided with geopolitical concerns, so that Sri Lanka seems to be facing a barrage of hostility. In some quarters this is seen as legitimate pressure on a country that has developed links with other countries that are too close for the comfort of those now applying these pressures.

Barak Obama - 44th President of the United States

It is assumed by many in Sri Lanka who have an inbuilt hostility to the West that it is the United States of America that is currently leading the pack snapping at Sri Lanka’s heels. I believe this is unfair, because there is ample evidence of sensible elements in the United States suggesting that an alternative strategy is preferable. I refer in particular to what might be termed the Kerry Report, that came out I believe towards the end of 2009, suggesting that excessive pressure might well drive Sri Lanka to exclusive dependence on other countries. That Report assumed, rightly, that while Sri Lanka would uphold its old position of Non-Alignment, to assume that that meant, as was gospel in the old Cold War days, that it was an enemy, was absurd.

Unfortunately that old Cold War position has been reinforced by what might be termed the bleeding heart syndrome, those members of the Democrat party who wore their hearts on their sleeves before the 2008 election with regard to American involvement in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Since they had to put up with President Obama’s decision that a sudden change of policy there was unwise, they therefore salved their consciences, as an old Republican friend told me, with attacks on Sri Lanka.

David Miliband - UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs from 2007 to 2010

Sadly, these have now got more shrill. But we should remember, without assuming that the United States as a whole has now adopted the David Miliband mantle, that there are still sensible voices there. This came out most obviously in the contribution to the Seminar by the US Defence Attache, who intervened when a question had been raised about Sri Lankan responses to possible surrender by the LTTE leadership. Earlier one of the foreign speakers had suggested that Sri Lanka had not been prepared to accept any surrender, and Rohan Guneratne had noted that, while unconditional surrender had always been acceptable, it was a Ceasefire or conditionalities that Sri Lanka rejected, given the manner in which the LTTE had previously made use of such concessions.

A more focused question prompted the Attache to say, ‘Regarding the various versions of events that came out in the final hours and days of the conflict – from what I was privileged to hear and to see, the offers to surrender that I am aware of seemed to come from the mouthpieces of the LTTE – Nadesan, KP – people who weren’t and never had really demonstrated any control over the leadership or the combat power of the LTTE. So their offers were a bit suspect anyway, and they tended to vary in content hour by hour, day by day. I think we need to examine the credibility of those offers before we leap to conclusions that such offers were in fact real.’

I was surprised by this, not least because I believe that this is the one incident as to which we have specific allegations, and therefore I think we should investigate further and try to establish what really happened, and if necessary take action if there were any breaches of law. This will not be at all embarrassing, in particular because we now have the example of what

Osama bin Laden (1957-2011) Founder of al-Qaeda

happened to Osama bin Laden. While it might be argued that he was not carrying a white flag, the UN Special Rapporteur Mr Heyns has drawn attention to the general principle enshrined in ‘article 3 to the 1949 Geneva Conventions which prohibits “violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds” of persons taking no active part in the hostilities or who have been placed hors de combat, including by detention.’ On at least one version of events regarding the LTTE, some of its leadership were in the same position as Mr bin Laden, namely taking no active part in hostilities, when they were killed – though in both cases, given past records, there was fear, rational or otherwise, clouded or not by perceptions of what they had done previously, of what they might do next.

The Attache however provided yet another mitigatory factor when he went on to say, ‘I think the same is true for the version of events. It’s not so uncommon in combat operations, in the fog of war, as we all get our reports second, third and fourth hand from various Commanders at various levels that the stories don’t seem to all quite match up.’ Unfortunately everyone seems to believe the version they want to believe, that fits in with their predilections. And sadly the Attache seemed to be aware that he could be at risk from what might be termed friendly fire, when he added, ‘And I think I better leave it at that before I get into trouble.

Needless to say, he did get into trouble, from those who would like to present the position of the United States as monolithically critical of Sri Lanka. But that requires an article to itself, to show how those who see themselves as furthering the agenda of what they see as the international community dislike interventions such as this that go against their promotion of confrontation.

Daily News 10 June 2011