Rajapaksa anniversary: The grim realities

Rajapaksa anniversary: The grim realities

  • Heavy arms procurements as both sides prepare for escalation of conflict
  • Defence Ministry forms company for import of arms but serious questions arise
  • After the Budget, focus now on Prabha’s heroes’ day speech

By Iqbal Athas

President Percy Mahinda Rajapaksa today marks an important milestone in his political career – the completion of a year in office as President, Head of Government, Head of Cabinet, Minister of Defence and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.

Nothing has been more exacting in the first of his six year tenure than the spheres of defence, security and peace. Just weeks after assuming office, the Security Forces and Tiger guerrillas were engaged in skirmishes. One blamed the other for the actions. It escalated gradually. The guerrillas launched a major military campaign to lay siege on the Jaffna peninsula. Though undeclared, that saw the birth of Eelam War IV.

Despite the early confrontations, he succeeded in reviving peace talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). That was in Geneva in April, this year. It came after the talks remained suspended since February 2003 during the tenure of the former United National Front (UNF) Government. The next round, however, in Geneva failed. Yet, it was revived again. Government and LTTE delegations met in Geneva on October 28 and 29 but the talks collapsed on an unexpected issue – the re-opening of the Muhamalai end of A-9 highway. The issue has quite clearly distanced the two sides from the negotiation table and forced them to focus on the battlefield.

Thus, a climate for resumed peace negotiations has virtually disappeared. On both the Security Forces and the Tiger guerrilla sides, there have been hectic military preparations to cope with imminent threats from each other. The Security Forces have gone on a high state of alert countrywide. For the first time, unprecedented security preparations have gone into effect in the South. President Rajapaksa and his government leaders are taking part in ceremonies today to mark his first year in office. They do not want the guerrillas to mar them.

In guerrilla dominated areas in the North and East, fears of strikes by the Security Forces have led to enhanced measures by them. Ahead of LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran’s “Maveerar (Great Heroes) Day” address the guerrillas fear Security Forces may strike at their positions. This, they worry, is to mar ceremonies that begin tomorrow (Monday) during the “great” heroes week. They engage in religious observances to remember their dead cadres.

The week culminates with Mr. Prabhakaran’s 52nd birthday when he delivers his address.

It is in this grim backdrop that President Rajapaksa looks to his second year in office. The deadlock over the re-opening of the A-9 highway has diminished the prospects of an early resumption of peace talks. It has consequently increased the spectre of a heightened Eelam War IV. That has left President Rajapaksa with little choice but to ensure a much greater military preparedness by the Security Forces.

On Thursday President Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the Minister of Finance and Planning, introduced in Parliament his Government’s second budget. It made no reference to a significant rise in defence expenditure. Yet, the much revised Rs 108.67 billion in the current year will rise to Rs 1.29 billion in 2007 – a reflected increase of 28 per cent. That constitutes a 45 per cent increase in defence spending. Further revisions cannot be ruled out.

Defence Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told Simon Gardner of Reuters “when sovereignty of the state is threatened, it has to be safeguarded.” He was also quoted as saying “Defence professionals will have to look into (what to buy) – basically what you need to defend the country.”

In fact, some hectic military procurement is under way. For obvious reasons one cannot detail all of them except to say some of the capital assets are enormously expensive. A company has been formed under the Ministry of Defence to exclude middle men in deals involving military hardware. It has sought commissions on the deals entered with foreign suppliers. The money is to be spent on troop’s welfare. Yet, the MoD has also renewed its call for the registration of suppliers for the year 2007. Almost all the deals are being touted as Government to Government. However, there were also ones that raised very serious questions where some of the transactions involving millions of rupees, to say the least, amounted to “highway robbery”. Those clearly raised doubts on whether the practice of churning out millionaires and billionaires in Sri Lankaa??s separatist war still continues.

In this war, the Army, Navy, Air Force and even the Police have had to periodically replace or update military hardware. It has happened whenever fighting has escalated leading to loss, damage or wear and tear of some equipment.

In an unusual development, personnel of the Sri Lanka Air Force have spoken openly about the Government acquiring four aircraft. Four of them are undergoing training at the Indian Air Force facility in Chandigarh which is the premier training base for Mig-27 and Mig-29 aircraft. Their remarks were reported by the Press Trust of India (PTI) on Wednesday.

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Three of Army’s Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), damaged during the ill planned Muhamalai offensive that ended in a debacle, lay in Tiger guerrilla controlled side. The Army lost six tanks valued at Rs 60 million.

The Government has contracted for the purchase of four Mig-27 aircraft from Ukraine, one of the major defence deals under President Rajapaksa’s administration. The Army lost six Czech built T-55 Main Battle Tanks during the ill planned offensive in Muhamalai on October 11. This turned out to be a devastating debacle with over 146 officers and men killed. See picture on this page of three such tanks lying damaged in guerrilla dominated part of Muhamalai. It is no secret that such tanks would have to be replaced. So would be the Dvora Fast Attack Craft (FACs) lost during battles with Sea Tigers, the most recent one on November 9 (The Sunday Times – Situation Report November 12).

In fact, the Navy has been handicapped for a considerable period of time. A scandalous deal to procure guns manufactured in 1985 as the main armament for FACs was called off. After exposures in The Sunday Times a Commission of Inquiry was appointed to probe the matter. The inquiries are continuing. But the Navy is yet to receive a replacement weapon. There are fears that new snags may delay the process further.

Yet, the Navy has now begun to face the brunt of the guerrillas. Yesterday, they foiled an attempt by Sea Tigers to mount an attack on the Navy base and the adjoining police station in Talaimannar. Some ten Sea Tiger boats had first attacked two Navy Inshore Patrol Craft (IPCs) and later headed towards the base. The Navy men resisted guerrilla gunfire from sea. They disabled four Sea Tiger boats. Air support came moments later. They hit two more guerrilla craft. Thereafter the Sea Tigers withdrew. Navy officials in Talaimannar said on the telephone that ten bodies of guerrillas were seen floating in the sea. One sailor was killed and five others were injured.

This was the first major incident in a week and came amidst fears of major guerrilla attacks ahead of November 27. Intelligence sources said yesterday that further guerrilla attacks could not be ruled out before this date.

The measures by the Government to further bolster the strength of the Security Forces (and even the Police), a marked contrast from the two previous Governments, are not altogether one sided. According to intelligence sources, the LTTE had succeeded in smuggling in a variety of military hardware in the past months. These sources say they are continuing to do so. Such items had included vast quantities of artillery ammunition, mortar shells, explosives and surface-to-air missiles. Some of the ship-to-trawler transfers heading to the shores were disrupted by the Navy.

All this means that both the Government and the LTTE are preparing themselves to be stronger at war. Logically that would mean the introduction of more hardware and the intensification of the war. This, no doubt, would further distance them from the peace process. More importantly, the accent from both sides, as a New Year approaches would be on a stepped up Eelam War IV.
Those challenges come for President Rajapaksa at a critical moment. The Government is facing accusations of human rights violations. Last Monday President Rajapaksa promulgated an Extraordinary Gazette notification appointing a Commission of Inquiry to probe 15 cases involving such violations.

On Tuesday, envoys of Donor Co-chairs of the Peace Process, the United States, the European Union, Japan and Norway, are meeting in Washington D.C. to examine the situation in Sri Lanka. The Government has already launched diplomatic initiatives to explain its own position vis-A?-vis the issues to be discussed. With that over, Mr. Prabhakaran’s message will follow.

President Rajapaksa leaves on November 25 on a three-day private visit to India. He is expected to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other Indian leaders to explain the Government’s position with regard to several key issues.

Also due to leave for the United States is the Commander of the Army, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, who has been at the forefront of the military campaign against the LTTE. He and his family are Green Card holders in the US having won a lottery earlier. Such a card is a forerunner for US citizenship.

Lt. Gen. Fonseka is due to arrive in Washington D.C. on November 26. He has sought meetings with senior military officials at the Pentagon and State Department officials for November 27 and 28. He will thereafter travel to Oklahoma before returning to Sri Lanka.

Lt. Gen. Fonseka’s one-year term as Army Commander comes to an end on December 6, this year. Government sources said yesterday a decision on an extended period would be made upon his return.

As he steps into his second year in office, President Rajapaksa, faces a formidable challenge. He will have to take tough decisions on tougher issues to save a nation that is in the throes of a serious crisis.

see the original article:

Commission to probe 15 major incidents
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has issued a proclamation appointing a Commission of Inquiry to probe 15 recent incidents of killings and disappearances which have led to an outcry over human rights violations. They will be assisted by panel of non Sri Lankans who are “International Independent Group of Eminent Persons” to be appointed by him.

The proclamation published in a Gazette Extraordinary on November 13 urges them to inquire and report within one year the following aspects:

  1. The facts and circumstances pertaining to each of the incident investigated and inquired into by the Commission of Inquiry.
  2. The descriptions, nature and backgrounds of persons who have directly suffered death, injury or any other physical harm as a result of the incidents investigated and inquired into by the Commission of Inquiry.
  3. The circumstances that may have led to or resulted in those persons referred in paragraph 2 above, suffering such death, injury or physical harm.
  4. The identities, descriptions and backgrounds of persons and groups of persons, who are responsible under the applicable laws and legal principles of Sri Lanka, for the commission of deaths, injury or physical harm to any person during, in the course of, or as a result of any of the incidents investigated and inquired into by the Commission of Inquiry.
  5. Having regard to relevant circumstances and possible reasons that may have influenced or been relevant to the conduct of investigations, examine and comment on the nature, propriety and efficacy of the investigations conducted into the incidents investigated and inquired into by the Commission of Inquiry.
  6. Recommend measures that should be taken in accordance with the laws of Sri Lanka, against those persons identified under paragraph 4 above.
  7. Recommend appropriate measures of reparation to be provided to the victims of serious violations of human rights investigated and inquired into by the Commission of Inquiry and to their next of kin.
  8. Recommend measures that should be taken by the Government of Sri Lanka in order to prevent the occurrence of incidents in the nature of those investigated and inquired into by the Commission of Inquiry.
  9. Any other recommendations considered by the Commission of Inquiry as being relevant on its findings in terms of this Warrant.

The 15 incidents listed for probe by the Commission of Inquiry are:

  1. The assassination of the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar, PC.
  2. The killing of 17 (seventeen) aid workers of the International non-governmental organization ActionContre La Faim, in early August 2006
  3. The alleged execution of Muslim villagers in Muttur in early August 2006 and the execution at Welikanda of 14 persons from Muttur who were being transported in ambulances.
  4. The assassination of Mr. Joseph Pararajasingham, Member of Parliament on 25th December 2005
  5. The killing of (five) 5 youths in Trincomalee on or about 2nd January 2006.
  6. The assassination of the Deputy Director General of the Sri Lanka Peace Secretariat Mr. Ketheesh Loganathan on 12th August 2006.
  7. Death of fifty one (51) persons in Naddalamottankulam (Sencholai) in August 2006.
  8. Disappearance of Rev. Nihal Jim Brown of St. Philip Neri’s Church at Allaipidi on 28th August 2006.
  9. Killing of five (5) fishermen and another at Pesalai beach and at the Pesalai Church on 17th June 2006.
  10. Killing of thirteen (13) persons in Kayts Police area on 13th May 2006.
  11. Killing of ten (10) Muslim villagers at Radella in Pottuvil police area on 17th September 2006.
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  13. Killing of sixty eight (68) persons at Kebithigollewa on 15th June 2006.
  14. Incident relating to the finding of five (5) headless bodies in Avissawella on 29th April 2006.
  15. Killing of thirteen (13) persons at Welikanda on 29th May 2005.
  16. Killing of ninety eight (98) security forces personnel in Digampathana, Sigiriya, on 16th October 2006.

The Commission is headed by Supreme Court judge Justice N.K. Udalagama and comprises Upawansa Yapa, Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, K.C. Logeswaran, Manouri Muttetuwegama, Jezima Ismail, S.S.S. Wijeratne and Ahamed Javid Yusuf.

The Commission will hold public sittings. When the sensitive nature of the information and material relating to national security are dealt with, the Commission is empowered to hold sittings in camera. The Commissions proceedings will be without prejudice to ongoing investigations, legal or judicial proceedings now under way. The Inspector General of Police, Commanders of the Sri Lanka Army, Navy and Air Force have been called upon to provide necessary protection and assistance to the Commissioners, officials and the group of eminent persons and witnesses of the Commission.

In his proclamation, President Rajapaksa has declared it was his intention to, within two months of the receipt of the Commission’s report, to initiate action. This is through relevant authorities of the Government of Sri Lanka and the Attorney General. This will include the initiation of criminal proceedings, where necessary, against persons found to have been responsible for committing serious violations of human rights.

He has also said that it was also his intention to publish the findings of the Commission in a Government Gazette. However, this would exclude any material prejudicial to or absolutely necessary for the protection of national security and public safety.
The proclamation notes that the appointment of the Commission of Inquiry follows allegations made by certain parties, regarding the commission of serious violations of human rights. This is in the context of (a) the ongoing terrorist activities against the Government of Sri Lanka, its security forces and its people, and (b) the counter measures adopted by the security forces and the police, to arrest, suppress, or terminate such terrorist activities.

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