I was finally spurred, by the enormous effort made by a few expatriates to take a careful look at the casualty figures for the conflict, to try myself to put together some figures systematically. Long ago I had made some estimates, based on the details I had got from Tamilnet as well as on figures from the ICRC of the sick who had been taken to hospitals in government controlled areas. But though government has now accepted what I said, at the time I was even criticized for my candour by those who should have known much better.
I should note that I was not entirely on my own, for the army, understanding better than most what was at stake, helped me with visits to the sites where the fighting had taken place, and in particular to the hospitals which were largely undamaged, contrary to the propaganda put out about them. But when the books I produced were ignored, I thought it better to concentrate on reconciliation with regard to the future.
Recently though I have been heartened by two envoys who have done well in dealing with the media telling me that I had been their initial inspiration. And when Michael Roberts and the Marga Institute produced ‘The Numbers Game’, and the remarkably sharp journalist Kath Noble assessed this positively, I thought I should make yet another effort.
Kath notes that there have been two methods used to calculate casualties. The first was based on actual counting, for which the UN, or rather its more shady elements, had put in place a Network of Informers, which the Darusman Report mentions. I continue astonished that our Ministry of External Affairs has not bothered to find out more about this, nor about the shadowy figures responsible for information about Convoy 11, one of whom never officially came out of the Wanni if the details the UN shared with us are to be credited.
But these informers did not produce the inflated results that are needed to attack us, so both Darusman (and now Petrie), and the so-called independent journalists who wear their agendas on their sleeves, Gordon Weiss and Frances Harrison, have come up with a new method. The assumption is that informers could not keep track of all deaths, and so the figure, well under 10,000 (which the more responsible elements in the UN said could not be substantiated) that the UN network recorded is deemed grossly inadequate.
Instead recourse is had to figures produced by a government official who produced three estimates which Kath shows were self-contradictory. If the figure of casualties is arrived at by taking away those who ended up in the refugee centres from those estimates, it would seem that large numbers vanished at two different stages of the conflict, even before the final days. And even if it were argued that the deaths in the final period were colossal, and no one (not even the informers put in place for this purpose) could assess them, there still remains the anomaly of Tamilnet and the informers having given far lower casualty figures for the two preceding periods in which the numbers do not add up.
That is why Kath thinks calculations based on the sick and wounded would make more sense. But since even that, like the process of counting up the figures that were produced at the time, is also not foolproof, I thought it would make sense to also obtain other information that would confirm the view that civilian casualties were far less than has been alleged, and far less than we have seen in other theatres of war (where those who accuse us count their casualties in single figures, whilst inflicting death on thousands).
Way back in 2009 I was struck by the fact that there were no casualties amongst the NGO workers whom the Tigers had forcibly kept back when the NGOs left the area. The same goes for all the UN workers, on whose behalf if was claimed at the time Convoy 11 had kept a few people behind – which meant that on several days in succession we had to observe a Ceasefire while the Tigers pretended they would let the workers leave, before deciding against it.
In fact the Tigers conscripted one of the children from this group, though enough of a fuss was made to ensure her safety – which had not been done, of course, for the thousands of other children who were conscripted, though the then British head of Save the Children had an interesting if specious argument about why they only made a fuss when their workers were involved. At the conclusion of the war every single one UN and NGO staffer got away with their lives. Only one suffered injury, by stepping on a landmine, which Neil Buhne told me was almost certainly the responsibility of the LTTE. He added that the armed forces had done everything possible to provide medical treatment immediately for the victim, including a special flight to Colombo.
Interestingly enough, the egregious Benjamin Dix, who is now making a living out of his bleeding heart, having tried first to stay behind in the Wanni and then run round Geneva telling tales about us before the UN stopped him, has never noted that there were no casualties amongst the colleagues he claimed he wanted to save.
But, just to make all this clear, I have written now formally to the NGO that coordinated such activity, as also to the UN, to get in writing what they told me all those years ago. I am sorry this was not done before, and that the Ministry of External Affairs, which is responsible for coordination – a task shared in those days with the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights – has not collated this and other information, which I am also seeking. But better late than never, to make clear the care with which we fought our war.