Truck convoy travelling to the northern Wanni region - Sri Lanka

I have written at length about the strange business of Convoy 11, which took in the last supplies of food sent to the Wanni by land in 2009. The adventures of this convoy have formed the backbone of criticism of the Sri Lankan government, beginning with a diatribe by Human Rights Watch a couple of years ago. I responded to this at the time, but the matter was not taken up by the then Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to check on what sources within the UN had claimed. These sources were doubly culpabale for the official position of the UN, and the letters we had from them, indicated that there had been hardly any problems for which government was thought responsible.

I continue to believe that more active engagement with the UN, the senior leadership of which was well aware of the true reasons for problems, would have been helpful at the time. It is still not too late, as I have advocated, in writing as well as orally, to discuss more fully with responsible people in the UN the strange allegations that have emerged in the Darusman Panel report as well as the book written by Gordon Weiss, who should still be held accountable by the UN in terms of his contract – but they will not act on this unless we request them to formally.

With regard to Convoy 11, the bare facts are that a Convoy was sent in on 16th January conveying not just food provided by the UN but also supplies prepared by the GA. It is often ignored that, right through the period of conflict, the government of Sri Lanka sent supplies to the Wanni for

Ms Sukumar and Mr Vedanayagam, who had to cope with Tiger threats...

distribution through ordinary suppliers. The role played by the Commissioner General of Essential Services, Mr Divaratne, in making sure that our fellow citizens in the Wanni received what they both needed and wanted, is ignored in international narratives, and sadly within Sri Lanka too. Only a few people know or care about his extraordinary efforts, working in collaboration with the two brave Government Agents, Ms Sukumar and Mr Vedanayagam, who had to cope with Tiger threats whilst fulfilling their governmental responsibilities to the people.

... UN through the WFP providing mainly flour

The army has provided me with details of what was sent in Convoy 11, with the UN through the WFP providing mainly flour. But man does not live by bread alone, nor only on the other essentials that the UN provides. The GA’s convoy, as it was termed, included not only other food items, ranging from Lactogen and all sort of biscuits (Custard Creams and Chocolate Wafers etc) to Jelly and Bubble Gum, but also other items which still seem to have had an appeal for customers such as Meera Powder and Fair and Lovely. While the LTTE then was driving the people into ever smaller areas, they seem still to have maintained a wider perspective.

‘rice, sugar, oil and wheat’

Nothing of this is mentioned in the Darusman Report, which specifies only the ‘rice, sugar, oil and wheat’ that form the WFP package, while Weiss claims the trucks carried ‘the basics of WFP’s “food basket”, which consisted of rice, beans, sugar, cooking oil, wheat and a small number of tents: all that the Sri Lankan government would allow’.

Additional items supplied

Again, I cannot understand why we have not got from the UN a statement to the effect that all this is nonsense, inexcusable in a former UN employee and in a Report that was supposed to advise the Secretary General. Such suppression of facts, deliberate I suspect in the Weiss case though I cannot imagine that Darusman and Co would be so insidious, and are probably just plain ignorant, is culpable. But if we fail to do anything about it, these lies will pass into history. The fact that we continued to supply cosmetics says much about the human spirit of all involved, a spirit that goes against the narrative of unbridled gloom and wickedness that Darusman and Weiss wish to perpetuate.

Anyway the convoy went into the Wanni on the 16th of January, but decided, arbitrarily, to stay on to try to persuade the LTTE to allow the local UN workers and their families to leave. This had been prevented previously but negotiations of some sort had taken place and the UN Resident Coordinator, Neil Buhne, told me that they thought agreement had been granted. I do not know if this was true, or if Neil had been misled (he should have been asked at the time if he had agreed to this exercise, since the government had no idea it would happen and I cannot believe Neil would have planned such improper activity).

Both the Darusman Report and Weiss declare that the convoy did not return immediately because it was not given permission to leave. Darusman only implies that the government was responsible for this, whereas Weiss specifically states that ‘goverrnment had cancelled their permission to return’. This is at odds with that military officials tell me, and I believe the position of the military, that they were anxious for the convoy to return, is substantiated by the letter of the UN Chief Security Adviser when finally movement became possible. He notes on January 20th that ‘We were informed that the LTTE has given the green light that the convoy can move south’. Incidentally this is the letter in which he informs government that ‘artillery and mortar bases have been established in the general area of our communications hub from where they deliver fire to your forces’ but asks the army ‘not to deliver any artillery, mortar of small arms fire into the general area of the hub’. A former adviser to the Angolan terrorist Jonas Savimbi, as Chris du Toit was, must have understood that what this meant was granting a free ticket to the LTTE to continue to inflict casualties on the Sri Lankan forces with no danger of retaliation. Could any terrorist force have asked for greater indulgence?

Government promptly facilitated the return of the convoy, but Weiss then further muddies the waters by saying that the convoy tried to go west, with du Toit hoping ‘that somehow they would be able to flag their presence in the battle zone as the army advanced eastwards from Kilinochchi’. A suspicious mind such as my own – which I fear our forces and our Foreign Ministry do not share – would have seen this as an effort to find out more about the battle positions of our forces, but it seems that even the Tigers were not as subtle and that ‘cadres manning a road-block’ westward of the convoy’s bunkers ordered it to turn back. Weiss then claims that ‘recriminations broke the brittle discipline of the international staff’, a statement that merits further investigation.  I am sorry then that Colonel Harun has not been invited to testify to the LLRC, since I think there would be much to learn from him about how efforts to reignite conflict can be defeated, so that reconciliation can proceed apace without suffering from the innumerable road-blocks so many people are constructing in its path.

Daily News 5 September 2011

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