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Lanka surprised at UN taking Fonseka’s statement seriously

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama yesterday (Dec 22) expressed surprise that the UN had sought an explanation on an unsubstantiated statement attributed to former Army Chief turned Opposition presidential candidate General (Retd) Sarath Fonseka relating to an alleged "do not take prisoners" directive given by the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa during the last days of the Eelam War.

UN Special Rapporteur on Extra Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Phillip Alston recently wrote to Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN Office at Geneva.

That statement had not been based on any credible evidence, documentary or electronic but hearsay, the Foreign Minister said.

In an interview with The Island, Bogollagama said that nothing could be as irresponsible as seeking clarification on a sensitive issue based on what the politician had learnt from some journalists, who had been ‘embedded’ at that time with Brigadier Shavendra Silva, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 58 Division, one of the frontline fighting formations. And on the other hand, the former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) had retracted only a part of the statement attributed to him in the December 13 issue of The Sunday Leader to the effect that the army did not carry out the Defence Secretary’s alleged illegal directive though the GOC of the 58 Division received instructions.

The bottom line is that the unsubstantiated allegation first made on December 13 against the Defence Secretary had been reiterated, the Kurunegala District MP said. He said that the country should not turn a blind eye to what he called a war crimes charge threat though the ground troops were cleared by the former Army Commander of any wrongdoing.

The Foreign Minister said that according to General (Retd) Fonseka’s clarification, he had received information regarding the so-called illegal directive given by the Defence Secretary just two days after the end of war in May. He pointed out that Fonseka had made his revelation eight months after receiving information regarding the alleged directive.

Responding to The Island queries, Minister Bogollagama said that Sri Lanka would always respond to international concerns regarding human rights or any other issue. Recalling eradication of the JVP-led insurgencies in April 1971 and 1987-1990, he said that the Rajapaksa government would not have faced war crime charges had the armed forces failed to finish off LTTE conventional fighting formations on the ground. "Here, we are asked to account for our unprecedented success. If we failed to sustain the offensive, this wouldn’t have been an issue," an irate Bogollagama said while calling an end to harassment of a sovereign nation.

He said that a determined effort was being made to revive the LTTE though the group had lost its conventional fighting capacity. He explained that the latest attempt to discredit Sri Lanka was essentially a critical element in their strategy to justify the setting up of a government in exile for the Tamil Diaspora. He said that the government was fully aware of the threat posed by the Diaspora. "They are planning ahead, may be to take us on in about ten years. Our intelligence services are engaged in operations both here and overseas to break them. Despite constraints, we are relentlessly pursuing targets though combat operations ended in May," he said. Referring to the seizure of an LTTE owned ship about three weeks ago, he said that the country should be proud of those officers and men, who carried out the operation at the risk of their lives. He emphasised that operations in a post-LTTE era, too, were as equally as important as ‘action’ during the war and would be necessary to curb any fresh attempt to revive operations in Lanka.

Eight months after the end of war, the government had eased almost all restrictions imposed on the people of the Vanni region, including the war displaced. He said that the government, with the support of the international community had provided relief to the people. "Don’t forget there are over 11,000 LTTE men and women in our custody." Had LTTE leaders wanted to surrender, they could have joined the civilians, who crossed into the government-held line. Among them were Velupillai Prabhakaran’s parents. The LTTE could have surrendered without any pre-condition had they ceased firing on the advancing troops, he said.

The minister said that the LTTE, the Tamil Diaspora and their international supporters had been convinced that the government could not keep the economy on track until the armed forces achieved their objective. He said that the rapidity of the Tigers’ expansion could have caused immense problems to countries with large Tamil populations in various parts of the world. They could have plunged the world into a severe crisis. Countries which recognised the threat were now cooperating with Sri Lanka, he said.

The war against the LTTE could not have been won without the support given by the international community. Responding to criticism that the government was bending backwards to appease India and the US, the Foreign Minister emphasised that they had provided critical support during the war. China, Pakistan and countries in the South East Asian region, too, made Sri Lanka’s victory possible, he said appreciating the nations which steadfastly backed Colombo at international forum, particularly at the Geneva Human Rights Confab.

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