On the basis of the December 13 controversial interview (which was later denied) by the Sri Lankan Presidential contender and former Army Chief, Sarath Fonseka the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Phillip Alston has asked Colombo to explain the circumstances of the death of three senior LTTE cadres and their families at the last stages of military operations to defeat the LTTE in May this year.
In a letter addressed to Kshenuka Senewiratna, the Permanent representative of Sri Lanka to the UN Office in Geneva on December 18 Mr. Alston states, “These allegations were made by the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army at the time of the events and subsequent Chief of Defence Staff (now retired) General Gardihewa Sarath Chandralal Fonseka, in an interview to the newspaper The Sunday Leader. The accounts of journalists embedded with the SLA 58th Brigade confirm some of the alleged circumstances of the death of Messers. Nadeshan, Pulidevan and Ramesh and their families”.
A statement by the Sri Lanka Government on the developments said that it is making a careful study of the U.N. Rapporteur’s letter, prior to a formal response, and any action that may be necessary.
The fact that the U.N. Rapporteur has gone ahead with the letter seeking an explanation on the controversy surrounding the death of senior LTTE leaders and cadres in the last phase of the war shows that Mr. Alston has not taken into account the subsequent clarification given the retired General that the weekly has not properly interpreted his comments.
Mr. Alston in his letter wrote, “I would be grateful for the cooperation and observations of your Excellency's Government. In particular in relation to the following questions: 1. Are the allegations summarized above accurate, If not so, please share the information and documents proving their inaccuracy.
“2. What information does your Excellency's Government have on the family members of Messrs. Nadeshan, Pulidevan and Ramesh allegedly killed on 18 May 2009?
“3. Please refer to the results of my military, police, judicial and other inquiry or investigation carried out in relation to the allegations summarized above.
“I undertake to ensure that your Excellency's Government's response to each of these questions is accurately reflected in the report I will submit to the Human Rights Council for its consideration”.
Less than 24 hours after his sensational statement that Sri Lanka Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had instructed a ground commander in the battle zone during the last phase of the Eelam War IV (May 16 to May 19) to shoot all LTTE leaders that had come out waving a white flag with the intention of surrendering to the military, the retired General and contender for the January 26 presidential poll, Sarath Fonseka went back on his comments.
On December 20 the weekly carried a clarification issued by the former Army Chief. It read, “As Commander of the Army during the final stages of the war, I did not receive any communication that some LTTE leaders were planning or wanting to surrender. I was not told at any stage they wanted to do so and that some kind of an agreement had been reached that they must come out carrying pieces of white cloth.
“I can speak conclusively and authoritatively on this particular issue and say categorically that nobody carrying white flags attempted surrender in those final days of the war. Therefore all of the LTTE leaders were killed as forces completely took over a remaining 100m x 100m area of land north of Vellamullivaikkal.
“Two days after the war ended I learnt through some journalists who were entrenched at the time with then Brigadier Shavendra Silva that an illegal order had been conveyed to General Shavendra Silva by Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. This illegal order was however not carried out at ground level. I take full responsibility for what happened on the ground.”
The retraction of Gen. (retd) Fonseka came after the government not only categorically denied the charges leveled by the commander turned politician as ‘motivated’, but also said that it was examining the contents of the interview for possible legal action.
Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister, Mahinda Samarasingha had said, “The interview of the retired General is a great betrayal of the nation, people of Sri Lanka and his former colleagues. Since the end of the Eelam War IV in the fourth week of May, there have been so many attempts by so many quarters to defame the security forces of Sri Lanka on charges of human rights violations but the simple truth is up to now no one has been able to prove anything.”
Mr. Samarasinghe maintained that the charges made by Gen. (retd) Fonseka are a contradiction of his own statement on July 10 at a function where he was facilitated for successfully leading the forces to militarily defeat the LTTE. He said that the contents of the speech have not only been reported by the local and international media but found a place in the 68-page U.S. State Department report of October 22 to the Congress on the war between the security forces and the LTTE.
The U.S. State Department report says, “July 10 – A media outlet reported on July 18 that at a celebratory event in Ambalangoda, Army Chief General Sarath Fonseka stated that the military had to overlook the traditional rules of war and even kill LTTE rebels who came to surrender carrying white flags during the war against the LTTE.”
Quoting from the media reports on the July 10 speech made by the then Army Chief, the Minister said that Gen. (retd.) Fonseka at the function had gone to the extent of saying that he was under tremendous pressure from several quarters to order the ground troops not to shoot at the LTTE cadres and had taken the position that soldiers in the battle field who have staked their lives are the best judges to decide on such matters.
“It is instructive for every one to remember that Sri Lanka has emerged after 30 years of protracted war and there are forces still out there working for destabilitation of the island nation. We are sad and disappointed that Gen. (retd) Fonseka is wittingly or unwittingly working on their script,” the Minister said.
A day after he distanced himself from the controversial interview, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government announced that a committee of representatives would be appointed to clarify and counter the statement made by the former Army commander, General Sarath Fonseka, to the weekly.
Political circles here believe that Gen. (retd) Fonseka chose to distance himself from the controversial statement in the course of the interview after senior opposition leaders pointed out to him that it would not only deprive him of the plank of ‘sole hero’ of the war against the LTTE, but would also be self-inflicting, as he cannot disassociate himself from the actions of the military he led.