The link Wikileaks has established between the Norwegian NGO FORUT and Solidar, the umbrella organization of European NGOs that benefited from so much funding in Sri Lanka in the period before the LTTE’s military wing was destroyed, prompted further research which has proved most enlightening. To be precise I should note that the link brought to our notice was between the erstwhile heads of those two organizations in Sri Lanka, but the continuation of their campaign against this country suggests that the congruence of their attitudes while they were here was not entirely accidental.

I venture to suggest now that there was even more to their plotting. In August 2008 there was a claymore explosion that damaged a car belonging to an NGO working in the Vanni, and injured its driver. This was used to criticize the Sri Lankan government and what was alleged were its Deep Penetration Units, but at the time I wrote that we needed to look at the incident in the light of the use being made of it at the time.

I noted that, ‘several NGOs, most of them international ones, are functioning in the Wanni, along with UN agencies. Most of them work primarily through local staff, whom they acknowledge are under tremendous pressure from the LTTE. This is one reason why they want more foreign staff there, though as it turns out such staff seem even more ineffective in dealing with the LTTE. Thus, while it was argued that the takeover of NPA vehicles was due to the absence of foreign staff, it turned out that foreign staff had been present, and had signally failed to inform anyone in authority, until the cat was out of the bag anyway, that the vehicles, 38 of them, had been taken over.’

I recalled then the incident at Mutur in which several local staff members of ACF had lost their lives. On that occasion the foreigners who should have made the decisions and taken proper care of their local staff, simply abdicated their responsibility. They ignored the fact that all other agencies were withdrawing staff from a dangerous situation and instead sent the poor workers in even though some of them begged to be excused. Whether they simply gave in to pressure from the more demanding of their local staff, or whether they listened too credulously to the LTTE is not sure, though perhaps we should also note that there is no great distinction between these two possibilities, given the pressures on local staff from the LTTE. Certainly the tell-tale note in the UTHR report, that on the Wednesday the LTTE told the ACF staff that they could no longer guarantee their safety, suggests some sort of earlier understanding, based on the initial assumption that the conquest of Mutur would be a cakewalk, when the LTTE launched its massive attack there.

I suggested at the time that something similar might happen in the Wanni. I noted that the LTTE was quite capable of killing with the aim of alleging that the government did it, and it was in that light that I expressed concern about what happened in August 2008 just beyond

Omanthai entry / exit point

What happened was that three NGO vehicles got to Omanthai in broad daylight, and were then kept for three hours at the LTTE checkpoint beyond that. I noted that in those days one did not hear wails about the grotesque inconvenience to which the LTTE subjects all those, and more particularly Sri Lankans, at such checkpoints, even though there were many complaints about government. The main point however was that the three NGO vehicles therefore had to proceed in the dark. Then, very soon after they left the checkpoint, the one in the middle was caught up in a claymore blast. It was not hit direct, but the driver, the only person in the car, was slightly injured.

The vehicles proceed at high speed to Kilinochchi, where the driver went to the hospital. A chorus of INGO bigwigs made sure the car was all right, and also checked on the driver. They do not seem to have informed the Sri Lankan authorities at the time, or with any sense of urgency on the next day. Thus there was no mention of the incident in the Sunday papers, even though it had happened on a Friday.

Given the manner in which all claymore attacks are attributed to what are termed Deep Penetration Units of the Sri Lankan forces, I said that that doubtless it would soon be gospel that this is yet another example of the manner in which the government is responsible for putting aid workers in danger. By the next week in fact, one newspaper had already confidently blamed a DPU, blindly repeating perhaps what they had been told. There was however no speculation as to why any DPU, assuming such exist in the magnitude ascribed to them, should function so near to the Omanthai checkpoint.

I also noted that no one would wonder why, given the skill ascribed to them – and knowing that the LTTE would crow if there were instances of attacks which failed to take what was targeted – they should have simply made a wave that did so little damage that all three cars in the convoy were able to speed on to Kilinochchi. It seemed to me unlikely then that the attack could have been perpetrated by anyone other than the LTTE, which had so sedulously, and unusually it seems, kept the vehicles for three hours at the checkpoint, time enough to arrange for an ambush. It would be nice to think that the ineffective nature of the attack was deliberate, an unusual kindliness on the part of the LTTE to save lives. It could have been due to incompetence but, given the skill of the LTTE with this type of weaponry, in for instance their period of great provocation shortly after the Presidential election, we can perhaps give them the benefit of the doubt this time round.

But I also noted that we needed to consider, given this kindliness, whether there were not some sorts of connivance on the part of the NGOs concerned. It is interesting that the middle car, which was the one damaged, had just one occupant, a locally engaged driver. The truck in front belonged to Solidar, of NPA fame. Though on balance I would say the only fault were the – to my mind culpable – one of wasting fuel, taking three vehicles in convoy with one of them almost empty, that in itself seems bad enough, when what these NGOs should be doing now is trying to get vehicles out, not stockpiling them in Kilinochchi. We should not be surprised if these vehicles are now used for the great exodus that has doubtless been planned, the LTTE hierarchy, obligingly driven by NGO local staff, proceeding in cars whilst the poor suffering people hobble along behind.

Even if all this had not been planned in advance, clearly the presence of so much equipment, and so many aid workers, was a godsend to the LTTE. They could take risks knowing that, if any harm comes to them, this can be used as propaganda. Indeed, they may decide soon enough that kindliness will not pay, and another incident like the one that was precipitated in Muttur will not go amiss.

I wrote then that one had to hope that the international NGOs, which were still trying to issue statements to prove their neutrality, neutrality between the government whom they are supposed to assist and a bunch of ruthless terrorists, would realize how readily they lend themselves to being used, and their poor dependent workers to being targeted as part of yet another soul-stirring strategy.

Guy Rhodes

Benjamin Dix

I was glad then that government decided shortly thereafter to ask the NGOs to leave the Wanni, leading to the extraordinary scenes of protest that Wikileaks has now indicated were very much orchestrated by the LTTE. This has not prevented them being a highlight of the Channel 4 film, introduced by Benjamin Dix who was working for Solidar. I have little doubt then that the government decision forestalled exactly the sort of tragedy I had predicted in my article, in which characters like Guy Rhodes and perhaps even Dix allowed their workers to be sacrificed, encouraged by the consequences of what had happened at Mutur.

Incidentally it should be noted that the NGOs were also responsible for precipitating the UN decision also to withdraw in toto, even though government had asked that WFP and UNHCR stay on. Neil Buhne told me he had been away and had thought that only WFP had been asked to stay, and I believe he had in fact been misled. Still, he has to take responsibility for not actually having read the letter sent by the Secretary of Defence, which specifically mentioned these two UN agencies in addition to the ICRC – which did of course stay on, though I suspect the NGOs would have wanted them too to leave, so that they could insist on the canard that we had wanted a war without witnesses.

I should add that, when I use the term generically, I do not wish to imply any criticism of the many NGOs that worked so well. It was clear to me at the time, and I have said so, that the Head of WUSC, Save the Children, and several others were doing their best to help our people. But I saw too that a small cabal made the running when positions were taken publicly, as for instance with the demarche that the Coffee Club sent at the time to the UN Secretary General.

I have reiterated all this because I think Wikileaks has now made clear that the old plotting still continues. For the other two cars in the convoy that was hit belonged to FORUT. It was a FORUT driver who drove up alone in a car to Kilinochchi.

Preparations were being made then, I believe, to launch a massive attack on our forces, using harm to NGOs as a centerpiece. The quick thinking of government forestalled that, but the same forces that I believe engineered the claymore attack that failed have now come together again, to attack the Sri Lankan government. Last time they did so with the connivance of the LTTE. Can there be any doubt that this is being repeated now?

Island 22 Sept 2011