One factor that emerged during the recent seminar on Defeating Terrorism were the very different interpretations of the concept of surrender. David Kilcullen declared at one stage that the strategy adopted by our forces ‘gave the Tigers no opening to surrender’. Rohan Guneratne pointed out that this was not the case, and indeed early on, in February, when the Co-Chairs of the Peace Process called on the Tigers to surrender, the Government would have certainly accepted this. What Government was insistent on, having repeatedly requested the LTTE to return to Peace Talks, was that any surrender be unconditional.

"I have no idea myself what understanding the Tigers thought they had reached with Mr Solheim"

This reality the Co-Chairs seemed to recognize, and it led to great anger on the part of the Tigers. The Norwegian ambassador noted that their fury was directed primarily at the Norwegians, whom they accused of betrayal. I have no idea myself what understanding the Tigers thought they had reached with Mr Solheim, but certainly the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, as represented by both Mr Hattrem and his predecessor Mr Bratskar, had no illusions about the brutality of the Tigers.  

As I have mentioned before, it was Mr Bratskar who, after his last visit to Kilinochchi, revealed that the Tigers were forcibly recruiting one person from each family. We had known this, but those agencies that were working in the Wanni, including the UN, had kept quiet about this. Typically, this pusillanimity, which may have been due to an anxiety to continue to work in those areas, has not been critiqued by those who are now lambasting the UN for what they claim was indulgence towards the Government. Louise Arbour, who was supposed to be concerned about Human Rights, did nothing to stop this type of conscription and the continuing recruitment of child soldiers, except issue what she doubtless saw as balanced statements that implied that Government was as bad as the Tigers. This presumably is what led one of the more foolish French Ministers who paid pooja to Bernard Kouchner asking us with wide eyed innocence if the Sri Lankan forces had stopped under age recruitment.

Louise Arbour then claims that the UN was ‘almost complicit with the government in our desire to maintain the delivery of services.’ She evidently has no qualms about what happened when the UN and other aid agencies stayed silent when the Tigers recruited forcibly even from amongst the families of the local workers of these agencies, and when they refused to allow local workers and their families to leave. But it would be difficult for someone who was so bitterly angry with the Sri Lankan government to even think about complicity in the Tiger taking of hostages.

Anyway, with the Tigers thinking that the hostages they had taken would enable them to be let off the hook, they refused to have any truck with the suggestion in February that they surrender. Instead they continued to herd the hostages into ever smaller spaces, while the Sri Lankan forces pursued the strategy explained at the Seminar of continuing to try to create corridors for the civilians to escape, while reducing the Tiger strength.

"the forces succeeded in breaching the defences enough to allow well over 100,000 to escape"

The strategy succeeded around the middle of April, when after much effort and many casualties the forces succeeded in breaching the defences enough to allow well over 100,000 to escape. It was then that talk of surrender arose again, and Mr Kilcullen explained that it was this period he had been talking about, when he said Sri Lanka did not provide an ‘opening to surrender’. That may be correct, in that as Kilcullen goes on to explain, ‘government displayed unshakeable political, opposing all external and internal pressure for a ceasefire’. But that did not mean they would have refused an unconditional surrender, what they did not want was negotiations – with a protracted Ceasefire which the Tigers would take advantage of – which previous experience had shown would lead nowhere. In fact there were brief Ceasefires to allow civilians to get away, but in fact the Tigers managed, after the massive exodus of April, to draw their iron curtain again.

Robert O. Blake, former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka

It is this perhaps that the American Ambassador was talking about in the Wikileaks revelation that he spoke to the Defence Secretary ‘on the morning of May 17 to urge him to allow the ICRC into the conflict zone to mediate a surrender.’ The time was long past for such mediation, and indeed the cable goes on to note anger at the ICRC for having ‘failed on three consecutive days to evacuate wounded, even though the Additional Government Agent had said it was safe to do so.

Although the cable is clear about the modalities the Ambassador was talking about, Groundviews with its usual determination to set up confrontational situations, uses this cable to denigrate the American Defence Attache. It declared that ‘the US Ambassador at the time….did not seem to share the defence attache’s suspicion that the offers of surrender were “a bit suspect anyway, and they tended to vary in content hour by hour, day by day”.

What Groundviews ignores is the additional information that Wikileaks provides that the Norwegian ambassador had indicated that he had heard from KP that ‘the LTTE were prepared to surrender without conditions to a neutral third party’. Personally I would have thought this unacceptable, since any surrender should have been to Sri Lankan forces, but the cable goes on to say that ‘Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa had agreed to the arrangement, but first wanted the names of the LTTE leaders who were prepared to surrender. Despite helpful efforts from Norway and SCA Acting DAS Owen, the LTTE has yet to provide such a list.’

All this seems to me to substantiate what the Defence Attache said, while also suggesting that the Secretary of Defence had been more indulgent about surrender that was not direct to Sri Lankan forces without any conditions, which is what I had thought was our policy and which was I think what Kilcullen had assumed. But as it turned out the LTTE behaved true to form, hoping beyond hope that something would turn up to save them.

Given then what seem very clear principles, no further negotiations, no protracted Ceasefire to permit the LTTE to regroup while pretending to talk, but willingness to accept an unconditional surrender even to a third party, it is most instructive that Groundviews still seeks to create problems, and to suggest that the Defence Attache was at odds with his boss. The final Groundviews comment, after noting that all this ‘is a tad confusing’, that ‘We can’t help but recall Alice in Wonderland, and note that this is all getting “curiouser and curiouser!”’seems more applicable to Groundviews itself. I can only think that this is yet another attempt to stifle what I consider the civilized elements in the American Embassy, so that those who work together with the Groundviews stable can have free rein. That is perhaps entirely predictable, but it is certainly curious in the classic sense that it requires careful consideration.  

Daily News 13 June 2011

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