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Sunday, 15 May 2011

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Darusman panel ignored ground situation



Terror unleashed by the LTTE

A rescue operation

When Sri Lanka is about to mark the second anniversary of the completion of the humanitarian operation which enabled the Sri Lankan Security Forces to liberate more than 300,000 Tamil civilians, once again it has to face the challenge from the international community following the report released by the advisory panel to the UN Secretary General regarding the final stages of the humanitarian operation.

It is true, that the international community still has queries about the way Sri Lanka defeated the LTTE, which was considered as an unchallenged and invincible terror force. Their worries can be justified in the context as they have not witnessed a conflict of this nature anywhere in the world.

That is why they are trying to compare the situation that prevailed in the conflict zone to that of Rwanda or similar situations. What they don't realise is that their imagination and comparisons do not fit the Sri Lankan situation.

They are coming out with contradictory figures on the number of civilians who died in the conflict zone at the final stages of the humanitarian operation but are not in a position to believe in the exact number of civilians who would have died in the conflict zone had this humanitarian operation not been carried out.

As Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the UN Dr. Palitha Kohona stated this week at the UN Security Council debate that the Sri Lankan Government took utmost care to draw a distinction between civilians and terrorists during almost three decades of combating terrorism.

Dr. Kohona further mentioned that, "The strategy of the LTTE posed extraordinary operational challenges to our Security Forces engaged in combating this group while ensuring the protection of civilians."

Zero civilian casualty

"The Government for its part, adopted a zero civilian casualty policy. Our troops endeavoured to distinguish between combatants and civilians and the protection and liberation of civilians from the clutches of the terrorist group was their highest priority. Over 280,000 civilians were eventually freed," Dr. Kohona said.

As explained by him if the LTTE terrorists were operating in their uniforms it would have been easy for troops to identify and target them. But unfortunately, the LTTE used those civilians as a part of their military strategy against the Security Forces.

As stated in paragraph 98 of the report at the final stages of the humanitarian operation 'LTTE cadres were not always in uniform at this stage. Since the loss of Jaffna and Kilinochchi fronts, the LTTE's supply lines and logistical systems began to fail, as it was almost impossible for them to shift supplies and maintenance installations to the Mullaittivu district. As a result, the LTTE lost access to fuel, ammunition and some of its food supplies. While the LTTE had some weapons caches left, they had only limited heavy artillery, including a small number of MBRLs.

The SLAF had complete air superiority, and the LTTE had to camouflage its installations to make them more difficult to identify from the air.

The UN panel also accepts the fact that the LTEE continued their battle against the Security Forces under the cover of civilians but was not enough to directly indicate that the LTTE camouflaged their heavy guns inside among the civilians in the 'No Fire Zone'.

The world has to understand the difficult circumstances the Security Forces had to fight against terrorists. We have heard under which many stories from soldiers engaged in the humanitarian operation as to how LTTE cadres opened fire at them while mingling of with civilians. The LTTE had the opportunity to leave aside their guns and join the thousands of civilians flowing to the Army controlled areas. Likewise, LTTE cadres who were trying to escape from the combat zone by sea had ample opportunity to pose as civilians when the Sri Lanka Navy detect them in the sea. So how can these experts draw a line between civilians and terrorists when counting the number of civilians at the final stages of the war.

At the same time, the panel should also recognise the fact that Tiger terrorists who had lost access to fuel, ammunition and some of its food supplies survived for months. If they have lost supplies how did they maintain their health to fight till the last moment. Here all these terrorists killed in the final battle as a malnourished set of terrorists?. No, they were well fed till the last date of the battle at the expense of civilians. They were also fed with food supplies sent to the 'No Fire Zone' by the Government. So if there was a scarcity of food within the 'No Fire Zone', the LTTE has to bear the responsibility for the situation there. It's not the Government or the Security Forces as they had sent enough food stocks for civilians.

As President Mahinda Rajapaksa stated this week it is only the Government of Sri Lanka that has fed its enemies.

Paragraph 98 of the report states that 'In spite of the futility of their military situation, the LTTE not only refused to surrender, but also continued to prevent civilians from leaving the area, ensuring their continued presence as a human buffer. It forced civilians to help build military installations and fortifications or undertake other forced labour. It also intensified its practice of forced recruitment, including those of children, to swell their dwindling ranks.

LTTE recruitment

As LTTE recruitment increased, parents actively resisted, and families took increasingly desperate measures to protect their children from recruitment. They hid their children in secret locations or forced them into early arranged marriages. LTTE cadres would beat relatives or parents, sometimes severely, if they tried to resist recruitment.

All these approaches, many of them aimed at defending the LTTE and its leadership, portrayed callousness to the desperate plight of civilians and a willingness to sacrifice their lives.

If the expert panel has substantial evidence they should say who committed the crime against humanity ? Is it the Security Forces who liberated civilians from the clutches of terrorism or the LTTE who forcibly kept civilians as a buffer zone? Before alleging the Security Forces and the Government of committing war crimes and violation of humanitarian law the panel should answer these questions first.

The LTTE, the pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora and the cronies of the LTTE are responsible for the misfortunes faced by their own people as they were the people who funded the LTTE to commit these crimes against the Tamils. This section of the Diaspora community is now trying their best to cover up their sins by making allegations against the Security Forces for committing war crimes and human rights violation. They are making these desperate attempts as they no longer entertain the support of the Tamil Community in the North and East.

While blaming the Security Forces for civilian casualties the expert panel also points out in paragraph 120 that in May, the LTTE began destroying their communications equipment. On 16 May, a large explosion rocked the LTTE-area, and a fire destroyed hundreds of IDP shelters.

So who should be blamed for civilian deaths inside the 'No fire Zone'. The LTTE wanted the civilians to commit suicide with them. But the civilians were not ready to die in vain as they have realised the fact that they have been going after a mirage for years. So it was the LTTE who tried their best to kill all civilians trapped inside the 'No Fire Zone'. At the same time the panel should understand how many civilians would have been injured and even been dead when hundreds of IDP shelters were destroyed in such incidents. So is there any base for their arguments it was due to the artillery fire by the LTTE directed at the 'No Fire Zone' which caused the death of civilians.

As journalists we were able to observe the carnage create by the inside the 'No Fire Zone'. The LTTE destroyed heavy artillery guns and ammunition dumps without any feed about the civilian lives. It was the Security Forces who cared about civilians and rescued each and every civilian life unlike Tiger terrorists who killed them mercilessly.

The expert panel had explained the plight of civilians in paragraph 139 of the report: ' When they emerged from the conflict zone, many civilians were fearful of the reception they would receive. They were severely traumatized and exhausted as a consequence of their recent experience. Many of them were newly widowed, orphaned or disabled. Tens of thousands of IDPs had conflict-related injuries, with at least 2,000 amputees among them. The situation, as large numbers exited, was chaotic, and many family members were separated from each other. In the process, many families were divided and placed in separate camps; provision for family tracing and reunification was inadequate, and the ICRC was not authorized to play a role in this regard.

If the panel of experts are really aware the actual way civilians had arrived towards Army controlled areas and breathed a sigh of relief when they felt that they were in safe hands, they will not even think of making such a comment. Only those who survived when they arrived in the Army controlled areas can explain their satisfaction. Even if the ICRC was present there they would have needed another Army to control them and keep them as families.

It is paramount that the expert panel understands the real ground situation that prevailed in the combat zone in the final phase of the humanitarian operation and not point fingers at the Security Forces for misdoings or any other war crimes.

 

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