Mass wedding of ex-LTTE combatants

18.  The Darusman report makes repeated allegations of execution and rape of LTTE cadres. It relates some of this to cadres who were separated in the screening process, but provides no evidence for these allegations.

Refuting such general allegations is difficult. However the manner in which the over 11,000 cadres who were rehabilitated were treated indicates nothing but positive attitudes. The women were almost all of them released before the end of 2010, but many return for training programmes which the Commissioner General for Rehabilitation conducts. The CGR also arranged a mass wedding, which led to the predictable response from organizations determined to be critical that he was forcing couples into marriage.  One otherwise intelligent NGO activist – Sarojini Sivachandran of daily murders, abductions and extortion fame I believe – claimed that boys and girls had held hands for protection while surrendering, and they were now forced to marry.

This was nonsense, and the CGR explained how the parents of all those who sought to be married were consulted, which resulted in the ceremony going ahead for only half the over 100 couples who had applied. In general the extreme care taken by the CGR and his staff, with special Advanced Level classes and English, in addition to the various subjects of vocational training, make clear the commitment to youngsters who were inveigled or forced into battle.

The claim that the rehabilitation process was conducted in secret is also palpably false. IOM, which had had a positive approach to the conclusion of the conflict, unlike many other international organizations, has been heavily involved in supporting rehabilitation and reintegration. But, in addition, the camps were open to visitors from the start, and from 2009 onward steady streams of family and friends were to be seen whenever one visited, in addition to UN and other officials discussing modalities of providing food and other requirements. It should be noted in this regard that, when such supplies were held up, government decided to provide the equivalent of army rations to the cadres being rehabilitated.

19. In fact the relative lack of complaints about this process suggest that even the most critical voices have little to say. However there are many allegations regarding the treatment of cadres who were not taken into rehabilitation. The main claim is that they were executed, for which the strongest evidence seems to be provided by what is termed the Channel 4 video. I will use this term to describe the short extract shown in 2009 and the longer version shown the following year. These were included in what I will term the Channel 4 film, a lengthy account that was aired in 2011.

Channel 4 - Jon Snow

The videos have a shadowy history, beginning with the announcement when they were first shown that they depicted incidents that took place in January 2009. That claim has been forgotten – though never explainedafter it was shown that the metadata had a July 2009 date (though one of the fatuous experts hired by the UN to authenticate the video claimed that perhaps those who made it had falsified the date deliberately to conceal their involvement in the event).

Other examples of idiotic explanations for anomalies have been cited in various critiques, but the claim is still made that the video is genuine – even though it is granted that the second version was edited backward, and included optical zooming, whereas the mobile phones that it is still claimed were the source do not have optical zoom facilities. Of course all this does not necessarily mean that the incidents portrayed did not occur. But they raise questions that those who aired the footage should explain before the material is used as evidence of war crimes.

This is the more important because recently LTTE operatives have been proved in Canadian courts to have participated in the cold blooded execution of Sri Lankan soldiers held captive, and also to have engaged in making films that could have been, according to a defence lawyer, entertainment or spoofs. Given the impact the Channel 4 video has had on international audiences, it would clearly have been wise of the LTTE to have produced such material, even with no foundation whatsoever.Certainly there has

The original - including giggling girl with a camera filming other girls supposedly running from a scene of battle

been ample evidence of the skill of LTTE propagandists, for instance the scene of women fleeing an explosion which was shown to have formed only part of a photograph which also included in its complete versionthe scene being filmed: and the two dead bodies on a

..the two dead bodies on a supposedly shelled hospital, below bottles standing intact on a shelf.

supposedly shelled hospital, below bottles standing intact on a shelf.

The Channel 4 film however did also include genuine material, some of which seems to have been taken from government footage too. But even what seems authentic does not necessarily prove the point made by the producers. Several scenes of hospitals being shelled, some of them shown repeatedly, do not prove that the shelling was by the forces nor that it was systematic and that the hospital was deliberately targeted. On the contrary, the evidence from the ICRC about the very few occasions on which shells fell into hospital compounds make it clear that this was accidental rather than deliberate. In the context of clear evidence that the LTTE was placing its heavy weapons near hospitals if not within hospital premises, and firing from there at the forces, that retaliatory fire hit the hospitals so rarely is a tribute to the care exercised by the army.

Isaipriya in Tamil Tiger Uniform

The film does however contain some scenes of what it is claimed are LTTE cadres killed after they had surrendered. Consideration of this has been clouded by the starring role Channel 4 gave to a lady named Issipriya, who they claimed was a television presenter, whereas pictures of her in uniform as well as other evidence makes it clear that she was a member of the LTTE’s fighting force, and was indeed characterized as such in the record the forces had of her death.

That does not however take away from the wrongdoing if she was killed in cold blood after she had surrendered. It would therefore make sense for such incidents, where dates are given, to be investigated further. However it should also be noted that troops were fighting in a context in which surrenders had been feints to engage in further attacks, and in which suicide cadres were exploding themselves in the sort of Gotterdammerung Prabhakaran seemed to have been pursuing with one part of his fractured personality. Over-reacting in such situations may have been regrettable, but I cannot necessarily be seen as culpable.

The bravery of soldiers and the compassion they generally exhibited under stress is apparent from the account in the New Yorker of the children who were taken to safety by the forces. The story is told to denigrate the forces because they are quoted as saying that they had ‘orders to shoot everyone’. But not only were all the children rescued, but the writer describes the situation in which they occurred – ‘The soldiers had been told there could be suicide bombers among the last Tigers, and in fact several insurgents blew themselves up in the midst of civilian refugees turning themselves in to the Army.’ The implication is that many of these civilian refugees did indeed succeed in ‘turning themselves in’. It would be interesting to see if the armchair critics of the Sri Lankan army would have been brave enough to have gone through all this and saved so many, instead of panicking when they felt themselves in mortal danger.

Daily News 8 September 2011

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