Monday, November 2, 2009

US to question Sri Lanka army chief over war crimes allegations

By Randeep Ramesh, South Asia correspondent
A video grab shows civilians fleeing a strip of land held by Tamil rebels

A video image shows civilians fleeing a strip of land held by Tamil rebels during the civil war. Photograph: Reuters/Reuters

Sri Lanka today objected to attempts by the US to question the chief of its army over allegations of war crimes during the final stages of the conflict with the Tamil Tigers.

US immigration authorities told General Sarath Fonseka, who is currently visiting his daughters in Oklahoma, that they would like to interview him before renewing his green card.

The Sri Lankan government said it was "worried" about the questions he might have to face because the US state department had made "allegations of crimes committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces".

Officials in Colombo are concerned that the US could also seek to ask the army chief about the involvement of the defence secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa – the brother of the Sri Lankan president and a US citizen – in the war.

The Sri Lankan embassy in Washington has retained lawyers from Patton Boggs, a leading law firm, to make the case that Sri Lanka could resist US attempts to question Fonseka over the defence secretary's conduct.

Fonseka and Rajapaksa are seen as the brains behind the government's bloody victory in May, which saw the Tamil Tiger leadership wiped out on the Indian Ocean island's north-eastern beaches.

Tamil groups have long urged the US to prosecute both the general and the defence secretary for what they describe as "genocide".

Bruce Fein, a lawyer for the US-based group Tamils Against Genocide, has argued that the political justification for a genocide investigation was strengthened because the "United States has been vocal with Serbia, Bosnia and other nations about policing and punishing their own citizens or residents for genocide".

There have been persistent allegations of war crimes committed during the final months of the 25-year Sri Lankan civil war.

Last month, the US state department's leading war crimes official, Stephen Rapp, called on Sri Lanka to conduct a "genuine" investigation into allegations of war crimes by both government troops and the Tigers.

Rapp's statement came as the state department released a 68-page report, based on US embassy findings, satellite imagery and aid agencies accounts, that painted a bleak picture of civilian life in a war zone under constant bombardment and where the death toll was rising. According to the UN and human rights groups, between 7,000 and 20,000 civilians were killed in the north-east between January and May.

The report blamed both the government and the Tigers. It said rebels had shot people trying to flee from their territory, forcibly recruited child soldiers and used suicide bombers.

But it also alleged that government forces shelled civilian populations, hospitals and schools in rebel-controlled territory, often in areas that had been described by the authorities as no-fire zones.

The Democratic senator Patrick Leahy, who wrote the legislation requiring the report, said it "eliminates any reasonable doubt that serious violations of the laws of war were committed by both the LTTE [Tamil Tiger] rebels and Sri Lankan government forces".

Sri Lanka dismissed the document as "unsubstantiated and devoid of corroborative evidence" .

Since then, Colombo has promised to investigate the final stages of the war, but many observers have raised doubts over its commitment to investigating itself.


Bhairav said...

Slow death awaits for SF :)

Bhairav said...

Interesting article on NY Times about Raj Rajaratnam, here you go:

Miss Information said...

It will never be easy to prove intentional and deliberate acts against the civilian populations insofar as war crimes are concerned but there is already plenty of evidence to suggest there were countless reckless advances by the GoSL troops that brought death, injury and misery to many of the very people they were trying to liberate. MR and his Ministers, in an Alice In Wonderland exhibit of delusion, still insist that no single civilian was harmed by GoSL actions and this silly lie will long haunt them.

In addition, the excessive and inexcusable detention of the IDP's in such deplorable conditions creates little doubt that MR has brought upon himself inevitable long-term scrutiny that will lead to a series of blows against himself, his brothers and possibly the General himself but the cry of genocide is ringing hollow and should be abandoned.

The GoSL victory over the blood-thirsty terrorists of the LTTE remains an important and costly milestone in Sri Lankan history. The value of that victory in terms of national support will likely prove too much to ever see any of the principle players brought to the dock to explain their actions but surely history will render unto them a judgment without hint of glory.

Fortunately, the Evil that was Praba and his minions has been vanquished but unfortunately the GoSL are doing little to ameliorate the root causes of the problems that led to the creation of the LTTE.

One thing we do know is that the war criminals of the LTTE met the kind of rough justice they themselves specialised in... perhaps there is another justice awaiting those on the other side whose actions in the war were every bit as ignoble.

I hope the good General tells the Americans he is proud of winning the war and that yes, the victors were not without sin and blood on their hands... who isn't after armed conflict?


Bhairav said...

Where did Ashok and others go?

Bhairav said...


What's the political solution you can give it to Tamils? Be specific on that.

Miss Information said...

Bhairav said...


What's the political solution you can give it to Tamils? Be specific on that.


Not sure of your question but let me suggest the following.

The Tamils are a minority in Sri Lanka, an important one but still a minority, and as such need to change their tactical approach in the area of political strategy.

Instead of taking on the majority directly (we saw how that failed in war-time) the Tamils need to seek propitious moments to lend their weight to movements that are already ripe with momentum and driven by other interest groups such as the newly coalescing opposition party.

It is better to have some say within the present governmental structure than none at all. Allow the heavy lifting to be done by those who oppose MR, such as Ranil et fils, and offer them support in return for promises related to implementation of the 13th amendment. Whether MR moves towards this implementation or a possible new Government does, the end result is a step forward for the Tamils and at this time any kind of ‘victory’ is no small one.

There are plenty of folks in Sri Lanka who are not happy with the draconian measures MR and his gang have brought to the nation in the name of defeating terrorism and the Tamil minority would do well to sit back and concentrate on the concerns of the IDP’s while tacitly supporting any and all efforts towards the 13th being acted upon.

This means renouncing the LTTE once and for all as well as leaving the demand for a separate state for another time. There is no support in the majority position for a Tamil nation in Sri Lanka so working to maximize the Tamil position under the present constitution is a much better short and medium term solution.

The Diaspora need to organise so that the tangible wrongs, like the internment of the IDP’s and their illegal detention, can be brought to international attention and thus pressure the GoSL into positive action. Focusing on war-crime name games does nothing to ameliorate the suffering of the many victims of the war who continue to bear the burdens of injustice.

In short, the Tamil movement in Sri Lanka and abroad need to pick better battles and fight them more judiciously. The GoSL are fully capable of shooting themselves in the foot so let them do that or let them dance away from their own poorly aimed gun-fire and closer to the reasonable approach that would suit all Sri Lankans.

The time of extremism is over. It has failed and will continue to fail its proponents and the people it claims to serve… both in the minority and majority communities.


Ashok Kumar said...

Hello Bhairav,

I'm very much alive and sorry for being irregular. I was on official tour. But keep myself updated with Puligal Today...

Bhairav said...


It's a bitter truth now that LTTE is done deal.

You guys can expect some report from Badri on "Puligal blog" in coming days.