Gordon Weiss omits ....

Colonel Harun finally left PTK on January 29th. There is no mention in the Weiss narrative of the UN engineer who had volunteered to stay behind. There is also no mention of the way in which he got away.

Weiss notes that ‘the ICRC and the UN were able to negotiate the evacuation of hundreds of seriously wounded’. He does note that ‘The Tamil Tigers had refused the request for days’, but omits to mention that the army had been supporting this request, and had indeed suspended operations on previous days when it was told the Tigers were about to agree, only for hopes to be repeatedly dashed.

Weiss also omits to record that the UN, together with the Sri Lankan government, had been trying to negotiate for more supplies of food to be sent in. It was with that convoy that Harun was supposed to come back, since that was a UN responsibility, but the Tigers refused the request.  It was then that Harun was advised, by the forces, to drive out when the ICRC convoy was allowed to move. When he arrived in Vavuniya, he said that he had been refused permission to leave by the LTTE but that, as advised by the army, he had told them to shoot if they wanted, but he was leaving. Those who briefed me from the army described him as being immensely relieved when he reached their headquarters. With him they recollect was the Sri Lankan Suganthan who migrated to Canada about a month later.

It should be noted that two drivers had stayed behind when the other UN employees left over a week earlier. Weiss does not mention them, but it seems they chose to remain because their families were in the Wanni, and were not allowed out. They came out subsequently, along with their families – as noted, though this is ignored in the allegations that civilians were indiscriminately targeted, all these people survived, including the child the LTTE forcibly recruited.

LTTE Sea Tiger suicide boats

The effort of the Sri Lankan government to send food in is also ignored, and instead the Darusman Panel has built up an enormous myth about how government ‘systematically deprived persons in the conflict zone of humanitarian assistance’. This is complete nonsense since, while there is ample evidence that government was ready with stocks of food throughout, it was the LTTE that frequently refused permission for such supplies to be taken in. This is of a piece with its attacks on food ships to Jaffna, and its refusal, after just one such successful trip, to let the ICRC escort supply ships to Jaffna. Despite this, the Commissioner General of Essential Services managed to keep supplies going to Jaffna throughout the conflict, so that an international assessment noted that all food items were available and most were affordable.

‘rice, sugar, oil and wheat’

The efforts of the LTTE to restrict food to the Wanni were also apparent in its refusal to allow the road northward into the Wanni to be open more than three days a week, until the Peace Secretariat raised the issue with the ICRC and at the Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance. When I first broached the issue, the ICRC did not reply in writing but asked to meet me, and explained that they could not supervise such an opening unless both parties agreed. They refused to say direct that the LTTE did not allow permission, since their dealings were confidential, but they did not demur when I pointed out that, since I had made a request, on behalf of government, having got clearance for this from the Ministry of Defence, it was obvious who was creating the problem.

Additional items supplied

They promised to negotiate further, but when nothing happened, I brought the matter up at the CCHA and had it minuted, and the Secretary of Defence made it clear that he would be very happy, for his part, to open the road northward from Omanthai seven days a week. I had to insist that this be minuted, for by this stage one branch of the UN was trying to persuade me to buy a scanner so that vehicles could be cleared more quickly for transiting the checkpoint on the three days that were available.

I pointed out that the cost was exorbitant, but the Head of UNOPS said they could find the money. I then pointed out that such instruments were delicate, and could go out of order if there were any explosions nearby, but he said it

Sir John Holmes - United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator

could be replaced.  It was then that I realized how freely the UN wasted money, when what they should have been doing was ensuring that the road was opened all week.  I am afraid I also thought of how my father had noticed that all politicians liked having power with regard to procurement, and I suspect there is something of this in UN officials too.

But with the public recording of the willingness of the Sri Lankan government to open the road daily – the request was made at the CCHA meeting which Sir John Holmes attended – the LTTE bluff was called, and soon after it was announced that the road would be open six days a week. Allegations of shortages – which had in fact been avoided by Mr Divaratne’s skilful management of supplies – stopped after that, to start again only when the LTTE began its game of holding hostages to be used as human shields.

Letter from Mr. S. B. Divaratne (Commissioner General of Essential Services) to Paul Castella (ICRC) 4 May 2009

Unsurprisingly, the Darusman Panel does not at any point think of charging the LTTE with denying humanitarian assistance, despite this evidence of it not permitting UN convoys. Later, when the ICRC took charge of taking food in by sea, there were numerous instances of them being prevented from proceeding expeditiously because of the need to get permission from the LTTE too. Darusman assumes that all delays were because of the government denying assistance, whereas simple questioning of the ICRC would make it clear that food supplies were loaded and ready to go, and they were unable to proceed because they had not got the required guarantees from the LTTE. The attached letter of May 4th from the Commissioner General to the Head of the ICRC makes clear the constraints under which government as well as the ICRC were suffering, The ICRC records of its failures sometimes to fulfil the tasks it performed show that it had to stay away because there was ‘no security granted at landing point’. While the ICRC continues to maintain confidentiality, and as with the Omanthai checkpoint, cannot be expected to make it clear why it did not act, any common sense interpretation of the language used here will make clear – as the ships loaded by the Sri Lankan government did – who precisely was stopping humanitarian operations.

Weiss blithely generalizes that shipments were stymied ‘by government employees and the SLA.  But as with visas or food convoys or with hundreds of requests made to the government, nothing was ever directly denied. Instead, permission was given when it must have been known that the majority of aid would be prevented from ever arriving’. This ignores the active contribution of the LTTE to denying permission for assistance to be transported. With clear evidence of the LTTE refusal to allow the ICRC to escort food up to Jaffna, their delay in allowing the road to the Wanni to be open all week, the prevention of what should have been Convoy 12 going in at the end of January with the supplies that had been loaded, and the failure to agree to ships to take in food in May, Weiss blames only government. His failure to mention the deliberate denial of assistance by the LTTE, a failure which the Darusman Panel repeats, as it repeats so many of the Weiss sins of omission and commission, would be a fruitful subject of inquiry.

But this will be avoided, because it strikes at the very heart of the LTTE narrative that these propagandists perpetuate. Of course the civilians suffered, because the LTTE forced them into bondage, precisely so they could be used for such propaganda. Therefore, if the LTTE could do anything to make the suffering worse, it would take and create such opportunities. Denying food was one of the least obviously harmful measures, and so Weiss and Darusman can ignore these sins.

Daily News 10 Sept 2011

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