LTTE Sea Tiger fast attack fiberglass boats

In addressing concerns regarding humanitarian assistance, I dealt previously with evidence that the LTTE had for a long time been determined to restrict supplies, so it could engage in propaganda about willful negligence. To achieve this end it had stopped the ICRC from escorting food ships to Jaffna, and had also attacked a foreign vessel taking supplies; it had fired on a boat with Norwegian monitors, who had then withdrawn, which satisfied the LTTE desire to create a sense of danger about sea transport; it had for a long time prevented the road northward to the Wanni from being open throughout the week, which created bottlenecks with regard to supplies.

The evil genius of the LTTE in denying humanitarian support was even more obvious however in the manner in which it corralled large groups into smaller and smaller spaces in the Wanni, refusing to let them get away to safety while it continued with its desperate struggle against the Sri Lankan government. And then it placed roadblocks in the way of supplies, refusing to allow the trucks that had been loaded by government to travel safely into the Wanni.

SL Govt food convoy

This did not happen all the time, and several convoys were sent in, even after the LTTE withdrew from Kilinochchi, and the regular system by which government had sent in regular supplies for commercial use, along with the free food distributed by the UN, broke down. But after the dispute with the UN over releasing UN workers and their families, the LTTE put its foot down absolutely. On the one hand they thus created shortages for which government could be blamed; on the other they saved themselves the embarrassment – or, since embarrassment is not a sentiment they felt in their intransigence, the nuisance – of having to refuse UN officials who pleaded with them to allow dependants to get away.

So what should have been Convoy 12 was not given permission to enter. The UN had expected Colonel Harun, who had stayed behind when the rest of Convoy 11 got away, to come out with the next convoy, but he had to make his escape along with an ICRC convoy of patients. After that it was through the ICRC that supplies were delivered, by sea, with regular trips although the Commissioner General of Essential Services urged the ICRC to go more frequently. 

Meanwhile government also made arrangements for purchase of stocks from the large harvest that the Wanni enjoyed that year. There was some argument about this in government circles, for it was known that the LTTE would benefit hugely from the money government would expend on this, given the control it had over farmers and distribution. In the end however government decided that that was a small price to pay, to ensure food security. The LTTE did not however allow the people to benefit from this, for after the conflict concluded, stocks of grain were found in go-downs.

USAID Mission Director Rebecca W. Cohn

The LTTE also had no intention of allowing the people to be the primary beneficiaries of the food that was brought in. They took their share from the start, which was well known by all those involved in supplying food, from the government officials who had to play ball to the UN staff which did the same, arguably with less excuse. I was thus astonished when the Head of US Aid asked if this was the case, and said that the US would not have continued to fund WFP had it known that a terrorist group benefited from its support. I’m afraid that, much as I admired Becky Cohn and the imaginative work she did in Sri Lanka, I thought she was being ridiculously naive, and told her so.

In addition to taking the lion’s share of whatever was given, the LTTE towards the end seemed to have prevented any sort of free distribution, and instead allowed those who wanted to do business to have control of the supplies, doubtless for a consideration. We were told, when talking to people who had been resettled as well as at the camps, that the food sent in through the ICRC in the last few months was not given out free, but was almost immediately put on the market at exorbitant prices.

And even then the LTTE continued with its game of restrictions.  ICRC records show that it had to stay away sometimes, when trying to ship food, because there was ‘no security granted at landing point’.  Even at the very end, the ICRC had two ships loaded ready with food for unloading, but they could not land.  And, though it may be suggested that it was the Sri Lankan government that prevented the landing, the fact remains that it was government forces that had loaded the ships, and it was government that had urged the ICRC to proceed with transshipment. On one occasion indeed government had loaded ships at Pulmoddai to expedite supplies, ‘for the first time carrying cargo from Trincomalee by trucks under very difficult conditions having to cross over to two ferries on coastal line to Pulmoddai’.

Gordon Weiss of course would argue that this was all a great trick, and government was simply pretending. If so, it was an elaborate ploy, with the sailors whom the ICRC thanked fulsomely for their efforts being forced to engage in labour that was intended to be useless. But, given that the LTTE clearly prevented food from going in on occasion, surely it must be obvious to any independent observers, if such exist, that there is a simpler explanation, namely that government did prepare shipments in order to send them to its citizens in distress, and that it was the LTTE who thought to benefit from ensuring that that distress was not alleviated.

Operating theatre at Ponnampalam hospital in Puthukkudiyiruppu

The same I should add is true of medicines. Government has records of the supplies it sent, and clearly, while some items were in short supply, there is no evidence of deliberate cutting down on agreed quotas. Furthermore – as with the sacks of rice and other things that were used to build bunkers – there are indications from the surroundings of at least a couple of buildings used as hospitals that drugs were left unused at the end. Interestingly, in addition to antibiotics, and what seemed anaesthesia, I noticed unused condoms too in the debris at one hospital that must have been for LTTE cadres, since it was never mentioned in news items, which only referred to two hospitals in schools in Mullivaikkal. Certainly there were shortages. But the claim that this was on account of government inaction ignores the incontrovertible fact that much of it was also because of LTTE action.

Daily News 1 September 2011

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