Some of those escaping LTTE came
without clothes on: Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva
‘White Flag’ Trial-at-Bar


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva on Monday (Nov. 15) said that some of those who surrendered to the advancing troops on the Vanni east front had come running even without clothes on.

The former General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Task Force I/58 Division said that people had approached troops waiving their hands. Among them had been LTTE cadres, both men and women and the Army had accommodated all of them regardless of whether they carried white or black flags.

Maj. Gen. Silva was responding to a query by prosecutor Deputy Solicitor General Wasantha Nawaratna Bandara before the Colombo High Court Trial-at-Bar hearing the ‘White Flag’ case, in which former Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka has been indicted by the Attorney General on a charge of falsely accusing Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa of war crimes.

Fonseka in an interview with Sunday Leader editor Frederica Jansz under the headline, ‘Gota Ordered Them to Be Shot’, on Dec. 13, 2009, alleged that the former General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 58 Division had received a directive from Gotabhaya Rajapaksa not to take prisoners during the final battle.

Maj. Gen. Silva said that some of those who surrendered to the Army had subsequently admitted that they were LTTEmembers. He explained the instructions issued to officers and men at all levels to adhere to what he called a zero civilian casualty policy.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had emphasised the importance of conducting the Vanni humanitarian mission with the least loss of civilian life, the Maj. Gen. said. He went on to explain measures taken by the Army on the Vanni east front to provide immediate relief to civilians and LTTE combatants seeking refuge in the government held areas.

Maj. Gen. Silva said that throughout the offensive, the 58 Division had had the opportunity to capture LTTE cadres, including some women alive. Maj. Gen. Silva recalled the capture of a woman LTTE cadre on the Vanni west front. The soldier turned diplomat said: "We airlifted her. She had fought for the LTTE, while being in government service as a teacher. Today she is doing well."

Responding to another query by Deputy Solicitor General Bandara, Maj. Gen. Silva said as the end of the Eelam War IV neared on the Vanni east front the number of surrendering LTTE cadres had swelled.

The 46-year-old officer told the Colombo High Court that he had joined the Army on March 5, 1984 as an Officer Cadet and his gradual rise to the position of the Brigade Commander of the Air Mobile Brigade in the immediate aftermath of the Army taking losses at Muhamalai in September 2006. A month later, the Air Mobile Brigade had had the opportunity to join a battle, which brought an LTTE FDL in existence since 2000 under Army control.

Subsequently, the witness had been moved to Vanni in October 2007 to take command of the Task Force.

After explaining the progress made by TF I, which was subsequently raised to the level of a Division, Maj. Gen. Silva said that his fighting formation had been given the task of rescuing over 100,000 people taken hostage by the LTTE and kept at Puthumathalan. Maj. Gen. Silva said that the media had dubbed the action carried out in the early hours of April 19, 2009, ‘the world’s largest rescue operation’.

The international community had been closely watching the military action on the ground. Had there been any loss of civilian life due to shortcomings on the part of the Army, the international community would have definitely tried to stop the offensive, Maj. Gen. Silva said adding that the 58 Division had meticulously planned the rescue operation, which was carried out jointly with the elite Army Commandos and the Special Forces.

Deputy Solicitor General Wasantha Nawaratna Bandara (NB): What is your relationship with General Sarath Fonseka?

SS: I had a cordial relationship with the then Army Chief as a Commanding Officer of a Division. The General’s relations with other Commanding Officers of other Divisions, too, had been cordial. We received instructions and advice from the then Army Chief.

NB: Had there been a rift with General Fonseka?

SS: There hadn’t been a rift. There hadn’t been a breakdown in our relationship.

NB: When did the war on the Vanni east from come to an end?

SS: The war ended on May 18, 2009, when the LTTE collapsed and we brought the last inch of land held by terrorists under our control. Although we [58 Division] had been given the responsibility for clearing the last enemy held territory, three Divisions (53 and 59) were involved in the final phase. Finally we confined the enemy to an area 500 into 300 m and finished them off. Immediately after the conclusion of the action, I called General Sarath to inform him of the situation. General Fonseka called me back and congratulated me and then inquired about other Commanding Officers and went on to congratulate GOC of the 57 Division Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias, GOC of the 53 Division Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne and GOC of 59 Division Maj. Gen. Chagi Gallage.

NB: Where was General Sarath Fonseka during the last two weeks of the offensive?

SS: General Fonseka had been on a visit to China from May 11 and returned on midnight on May 17 and then called me.

NB: Had there been any journalists embedded with the 58 Division during the offensive?

SS: Some journalists stayed with my Division throughout the campaign. There were some others, who came in on and off, while a section of the journalists visited during the day for briefings. Journalists couldn’t have visited operational areas without the approval of the Defence Ministry or the Army headquarters.

NB: General Sarath Fonseka or Defence Ministry authorised visits…?

SS: General Fonseka or one of his staff officers informed me of the arrival of journalists.

NB: Did the 58 Division maintain a file on journalists?

SS: As all those assigned for the 58 Division had to be cleared by Army headquarters, there had to be a list.

(Hearing resumes today at 10.30. am)

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