What seemed the positive remarks of the United States Defence Attache at the recent seminar on Defeating Terrorism were promptly challenged in Groundviews, the electronic journal established a few years back with funding from Canadian and Australian aid agencies. At least, this was the proud boast on its website, until I drew attention to this, whereupon the claim was removed from the public domain.

Interestingly, the Australian Embassy responded to my query to say they had not funded Groundviews per se, even though they had provided some assistance to the Centre for Policy Alternatives, which may have used those funds for Groundviews.  Canada, represented at the time by Angela Bogdan whom even fellow envoys found embarrassingly critical of the Sri Lankan government, did not respond.

Incidentally, I have noted previously that the failure of our Ministry of Foreign Affairs to have called in Angela Bogdan when she tried to blackmail a Sri Lankan NGO so as to save her protégé Rama Mani was symptomatic of why our international relations are so messy. I have little doubt that one reason for the funding bestowed on Groundviews was the baldly stated credo of its editor, that ‘I stand, as you know, vehemently against the govt you so staunchly defend’.

Sanjana Hattotuwa - ‘I stand, as you know, vehemently against the govt you so staunchly defend’.

I hasten to add that I have no personal quarrel with Sanjana Hattotuwa who, though an extremely shrewd operator, has a sense of humour, which is more than one can say of most of his self-righteous correspondents. But I do find it strange that our government does not put in place mechanisms to ensure that aid, contributed for the welfare of the Sri Lankan people, does not pour in to elite wordmasters who make no secret of their animosity to a democratically elected government.

Part of their technique, whether home grown or learnt at the feet of those who have made manipulation of social media an art, is to promote confrontation. Thus in its coverage of the seminar on Defeating Terrorism, Groundviews paid special attention to claiming that the West was on its side as it were, and opposed to the Rajapakse government.

Noteworthy was its characterization of the speech of David Kilcullen as ‘the best for the day where he insinuated that by giving strong political leadership to finish the war, the MR is indirectly responsible for war crimes. He got a very good ovation from the audience, which included the army commander and Rajiva Wijesinha. We were laughing, because the “government” folks missed the egg on their face lines.

Sanjana evades responsibility by claiming about this strange effusion that, ‘as with everything else on the site, it was put up not as gospel but for contestation’ but since he had previously indicated that he was responsible for emphasizing this section, it is clear that he was trying to get across a particular point. Perhaps the gratuitous inclusion of my name was in fulfillment of his desire, very kindly advanced soon after the Peace Secretariat was closed, that I write for Groundviews, which I thought was inappropriate given the emotively vicious language it used about the Government in general.

I did indeed respond, but only to convey to Groundviews David Kilcullen’s own response to the misuse of his speech. He wrote

David Kilcullen

Rajiva,
the Groundviews report is a total mischaracterization of my remarks. I never mentioned war crimes, nor suggested in the slightest possible way that any senior official encouraged or condoned them.

What I did say is that the international community has some serious questions about human rights issues in the way the final campaigns were conducted, and that Sri Lanka (from what I can see) has nothing to hide, and therefore nothing to lose by engaging in an open discussion about these issues.

I also pointed to the need for full accountability and reconciliation going forward, and mentioned our experience in Afghanistan as a cautionary tale: military victory over the enemy is the start, not the end, of a process of peacemaking and it’s incredibly important to get this process right, otherwise the conflict will simply come back.

As the chairman of the session correctly pointed out, I made these remarks from a position of strong solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka  — Tamils and others — who have suffered so egregiously from the predations of the LTTE over 30 years, and after fully half of the speech where I talked in detail about the achievements and innovations of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces.

As I said, I’m stunned that anyone could misinterpret my remarks in such a way and would urge anyone to simply read the speech or listen to what I said — anyone who does that can judge for themselves.

best wishes

Dave Kilcullen

Characteristically, Sanjana, having promised to carry the piece in full, merely included it in the string of comments on the original mischaracterization. It was followed by a string of the usual suspects claiming that Kilcullen had in fact said what the mischaracterization claimed, notwithstanding his explicit rejection of this. After I pointed out that this was scarcely the way to carry a rebuttal, Sanjana assured me that the piece did stand on its own, but I was unable to find this. This may be due to my ignorance of the way Groundviews works, but since previously Sanjana had sent me the link to the string of comments, I cannot help wondering if there is yet more sleight of hand involved.

Be that as it may, the mischaracterization of the speech, and the desperate efforts to claim that Kilcullen’s rebuttal meant the opposite of what it said, indicate why there is so much distrust and concealment all around us. Kilcullen makes it clear that, while he believes Sri Lanka has nothing to hide, he believes open discussion of the issues raised is advisable. This has been my position throughout, which is why I have never made any bones about the fact that there were civilian casualties, while pointing out that government policy was to avoid civilian casualties. I believe that, as far as government agency went, in almost all cases civilian casualties arose from collateral damage which was never disproportionate to the military aim, an aim that was calibrated in terms of the absolute necessity to get rid of the terrorist menace that had abused all our citizens, and in particular the Tamils who were being held hostage. I have also argued that when there are specific allegations, as with the White Flag incident, we should conduct a careful investigation.

However, when Mr Kilcullen says similar things, he has to be presented as having insinuated that the President was responsible for War Crimes, ie he is willy nilly put into the same boat as those determined to undermine the Sri Lankan state. So, almost immediately I had a query from one of those many Sri Lankans abroad who has done so much to combat unfair attacks on us. Had I not reassured him that Mr Kilcullen had not said what he was reported as having indicated, there might well have been a critique of his statement, born entirely of the mischief making that Groundviews indulges in.

I can understand therefore why Government is wary about admitting that there were civilian casualties, because immediately they are reported as having ‘admitted’ that there were such, as though it was not a given that there are always civilian casualties. The question is, not just agency, but intention and culpability. When we have clear evidence that the LTTE knowingly provoked firing by using its heavy weaponry from amidst civilian and humanitarian sanctuaries, it is preposterous that we continue to be accused of criminality.

Unfortunately, when we have Sri Lankans such as those who mischaracterized Mr Kilcullen’s remarks, and continued to do so even after he had issued his clarification, it is not surprising that a few foreigners try to leap on the bandwagon. But, as Lakshman Kadirgamar, perhaps the saddest victim of Tiger Terrorism said of himself, even if the frosting on that particular cake was externally derived, the cake was baked at home. We in Sri Lanka who treat foreign foes as a monolithic menace, should remember the domestic input into encouraging confrontation – and should work out ways in which those foreigners who fund such domestic mischief making are required to function with transparency and accountability, to both Sri Lankan and foreign taxpayers.

Daily News 8 June 2011

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