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As pressures mount in Geneva, my bemusement increases at our failure to answer systematically the many charges made against us. I had long pointed out that the criticisms made were by and large untenable, but there were certain incidents which required to be investigated further. This view, based on close observation from the vantage point of the Peace Secretariat where I had set in place mechanisms to monitor allegations and check on them, was confirmed by the LLRC Report. That highlighted the need to check on the treatment of surrendees while affirming that indiscriminate attacks on civilians etc were absurd and tendentious charges.

To dismiss those charges however requires logical argument based on evidence. This approach is sometimes not acceptable, as I realized when I was roundly attacked for having declared way back in June 2009 that there had been civilian casualties. The then Attorney General asked me why I had said this, to which my answer was that it was true. I could however understand his assertion that people would try to make use of my answer, and I sympathize with those who feel they might succumb to leading questions and therefore stay silent. But the way of dealing with such matters is to point out the nonsensical nature of such stratagems – as I did with Stephen Sackur on ‘Hard Talk’ when he asked whether I was admitting there were civilian casualties – rather than hiding one’s head in the sand, ostrich-like, and pretending one knew nothing, or even worse, denying reality.

Unfortunately, given that we have so many ostriches in the country, blank denials are thought preferable to logical argument. Thus we seem internationally to have lost the battle with regard to the number of casualties, which has reached the inflated figure now, sanctified by the blessed Darusman, of at least 40,000. These are claimed to be civilians who were killed in indiscriminate firing.

The facts speak otherwise, but we do not use the facts. The recent census report is not publicly discussed, and though there is a report that tries to use data from it to rebut allegations, the process is flawed because the report is long-winded and would not be read by anyone except those already convinced.

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Having heard the various presentations at the Seminar about Defeating Terrorism, I think that second only to admiration for the systematic work of our forces was regret about the deficiencies Rohan Guneratne noted, with regard to presentation of the story. I hope government will swiftly take up his suggestion that we develop better information dissemination strategies, not only in the Foreign Service and the Information Ministry but also within the services themselves .

Several years back, when I was Academic Coordinator of the degree programme at the Sri Lanka Military Academy, I drew attention to the failure of our officers to set down their experiences in writing, and indeed to analyse defeats as well as victories. I recall being told then that it might be difficult to have instituted projects on say the loss of Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi and Pooneryn in the nineties, and Elephant Pass in 2000, since some of the officers responsible for those setbacks were still in the army.

That seemed to me an unsatisfactory answer, given for instance how thoroughly the Indian Army had tackled the story of the IPKF, which was also a setback, even though from the Sri Lankan point of view it had provided a great service to us, which we should have permitted to be concluded. I believe the Indian army learnt from its mistakes then, and certainly study of those several books taught us much about the techniques the Tigers used, not only in terms of guerilla warfare but also the use of civilians as human shields and propaganda tools.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

November 2018
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