Prez launches project to record ‘war history’ as pressure mounts on Geneva front



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By Shamindra Ferdinando


A senior journalist covering a hastily arranged media conference at Sirikotha last Friday (Sept. 21) sought Public Administration and Management and Law and Order Minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara’s response to the predicament of Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage.


 The Gajaba veteran, designated as a war criminal by Australia, retired on Aug. 31, 2018. The Moneragala District MP expressed confidence that Gallage would be able to overcome difficulties soon. Deputy Law and Order Minister and Kurunegala District MP Nalin Bandara refrained from commenting.


 Obviously, the UNPers didn’t know the circumstances under which Australia, in 2016, denied Gallage a visa on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes accusations that led to the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government to co-sponsor Geneva Resolution 30/1. Australia has effectively prevented Gallage from receiving an Australian visa on an official capacity or otherwise.


 The journalist, too, didn’t know that Gallage had served the celebrated Gajaba Regiment as he called the retired soldier an officer of the Gemunu Watch when posing the query to Madduma Bandara.


Those at the Sirikotha press conference would have been surprised if they were told that Chagie’s mother, Daisy Rathnawalie Nanayakka, a long time faithful of the UNP bosses, retired after serving the country’s oldest political party as an accountant. In fact, she had served the UNP when its headquarters was on the Galle Road, where Chagie frequently visited. The retired soldier recently recalled him visiting his mother on his first ever leave as a Second Lieutenant where he ran to the then UNP Chairman N.G. Panditharatne. Gallage still vividly recalls Panditharatne inquiring from his mother whether the young man wearing a mustache was her brother. Subsequently, Mrs Nanayakkara had moved from the Galle Road UNP office to its present day main party office at Kotte.


The writer dealt with Gallage’s retirement in last week’s Midweek with the focus on his superlative farewell speech delivered at the Gajaba home at Saliyapura, Anuradhapura.


It would be pertinent to examine the stand taken by Army Headquarters in the wake of the Australian snub. The then Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Chishanthe de Silva (Feb 22, 2015-June 26, 2017), in early 2017, took up Gallage’s issue with Secretary to the Ministry of Defence Karunasena Hettiarachchi, a close confidant of President Maithripala Sirisena. Lt. Gen. De Silva, along with his missive, sent an Australian government report on Gallage.


Lt. Gen de Silva now serves as Sri Lanka’s top diplomat in Dhaka, Bangladesh.


It would be interesting to know whether Karunasena Hettiarachchi had consulted President Sirisena, or the Foreign Ministry, as regards the letter received from Lt. Gen. De Silva. The Island understands the National Unity Government did absolutely nothing. Instead of at least taking up the issue with the Australian High Commission, the government chose to remain silent. President Sirisena publicly referred to the crisis faced by some of those who gave leadership to the ground forces in the Eelam war IV. The President, in his capacity as the Commander-in-Chief, expressed serious concern when he addressed senior commanders at the military hospital in mid - November last year. Gallage was among those seated in the front row. Those responsible for countering war crimes accusations refrained from at least officially briefing countries which accepted the UN allegations.


 Let me reproduce the letter addressed to Karunasena Hettiarachchi by Lt. Gen de Silva. AHQ/JAG/A/9/1/2 (253)


 April 5, 2017


Secretary


Ministry of Defence


Denial of an Australian visa


Major General CP Gallage WWV RWP RSP USP USAWC


References


(A) An appeal made by Major General CP Gallage (enclosed)


(B) An Australian Government Report on Major General CP Gallage (enclosed)


Major General CP Gallage has been denied a visitor’s visa by the Australian High Commission in Colombo on the grounds that 59 Division troops, under Major General Gallage, were responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Australian decision is based on certain UN and Human Rights Watch Reports cited in the Australian Government Report (Reference B).


The aforesaid UN and Human Rights Watch Reports are primarily based on unsubstantiated and hearsay evidence planted by LTTE sympathizers and totally lack objectivity. Therefore en bloc categorization of officers who had served in certain formations during the humanitarian operations, to say the least, is totally unjustifiable.


At present the Ministry of Defence is closely cooperating with the Australian government and Sri Lanka Armed Forces have extended their fullest cooperation to Australian authorities in many defence and security related matters. In such circumstances, arbitrary denial of visas to members of Sri Lanka Armed Forces will not augur well for the bilateral relationships between the two countries.


Therefore, it is kindly requested that his Excellency the President be appraised of the situation in order to take effective remedial measures.


A W J C de Silva, RWP VSV USP


ndu psc


 Lieutenant General


Commander of the Army


 


Army headquarters response to war crimes


It would be pertinent to ask whether Lt. Gen de Silva’s predecessors officially took up with the Secretary to Ministry of Defence the contentious issue of officers, faulted on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes accusations, being denied visas, both on official and unofficial capacities. Interestingly, Lt. Gen de Silva, obviously failed to point out to Secretary Ministry of Defence that Gallage had taken over the command of the 59 Division after the end of the war. In other words, at the time, Gallage received appointment as the General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the 59 Division, the LTTE was no more.


The 59 Division, a principal fighting division raised in 2007 was tasked with securing the coastal LTTE stronghold Mullaitivu. The 59 Division achieved its primary task in late January 2009 after having crossed dense Vanni jungles.


The LTTE, routed the Army at Mullaitivu on July 18, 1996, during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga presidency. The Mullaitivu debacle remained the worst single defeat experienced by the Army until the LTTE evicted the Army from the strategic Elephant Pass base in April 2001, also during Kumaratunga’s presidency. The LTTE overran a Brigade-size Mullaitivu deployment (though its actual strength was much less) within 24 hours, whereas fully fledged 54 Division plus deployment backed by overland supplies from Palaly-Kankesanthurai, crumbled, in the worst ever defeat. The loss of Elephant Pass stunned the entire nation. Unfortunately, the then military leadership made a silly bid to describe the humiliating defeat as a strategic withdrawal.


The Army lost precious artillery pieces, both at Mullaitivu and Elephant Pass, during the tenure of the late Rohan de S. Daluwatte (May 1, 1996-Dec 15, 1998) and L.P. Balagalle’s (Aug 25, 2000-June 30, 2004) tenures as the Commander of the Army, respectively. In spite of northern debacles, they received appointment as Chief of Defence Staff following retirement. However, Daluwatte and Balagalle had their moment of glory as well. Daluwatte, in his capacity as the Overall Operations Commander, gave leadership to Operation Riviresa in 1995-1996 that brought the Jaffna peninsula under government control, whereas Balagalle earned the appreciation for his role in Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI).


At the time the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe signed the Oslo-arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in the third week of Feb 2002, the security situation was in such a perilous state, perhaps Wickremesinghe had no alternative but to seek a negotiated settlement with the LTTE.


Just five years after the signing of the CFA, the Army transformed itself to a lethal fighting force that brought the war to an end within two years and 10 months. Unfortunately, those who gave leadership to that herculean task are now at the receiving end. Gallage’s predicament is a case in point. Sri Lanka will mark its glorious war victory in May next year with the likes of Gallage categorized as war criminals.


Over the years, many officers were denied the opportunity to join foreign military courses on the basis of such unsubstantiated war crimes accusations.


Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, the first GOC, of the celebrated 58 Division, Maj. Gen Prasanna Silva, the war time GOC of the 55 Division as well as Jaffna Security Forces Commander Maj. Gen. Mahinda Hathurusinghe had not been allowed to join US programmes over war crimes allegations. In the case of Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, the then Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative in New York was denied entry into War College.


The US also refused to include Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias and Military Secretary Maj. Gen. Sudantha Ranasinghe in the September 2013 military programme in Auckland, New Zealand citing accountability issues.


They were among three Majors General nominated by Army Headquarters for the ‘Pacific Army Management seminar’. The US accepted the nomination of Boniface Perera, the then Security Forces Commander, Vanni.


While Majors Gen Jagath Dias and Prasanna Silva commanded troops during the period under UN investigation, Sudantha Ranasinhe hadn’t been involved in operations though he was denied visas twice on the basis of him receiving peacetime command of the 53 Division. Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s personal efforts to convince the US embassy in Colombo to review its unfair policy didn’t succeed.


 Recently, some members of the international community told Sri Lanka that it should fully implement Geneva Resolution 30/1 by March next year or face the consequences. The government refrained from responding to the statement issued by those countries.


A challenging task


 Before discussing President Sirisena’s move to have the war complete history recorded close on the heels of the launch of the latest edition of the Mahawansa, let me reproduce what retired Gallage, in his farewell address at Saliyapura, said about two of his seniors. Due to an inadvertent error on the writer’s part, wrong impression may have been created as to their seniority.


Having referred to his contribution to the transformation of the army, Gallage named those who made that impossible task possible. Among them were… Maj Gen (rtd) Udaya Perea (Who was my debut Snr Subaltern; on whose foot prints I constantly trailed on)


 Then,…Maj Gen (rtd) Jagath Alwis (Who inspired me to join the Army when I was gallivanting after schooling and just recruited to Marines; not in the USA; but at CBO Dockyards to scrap rusted metal as a special apprentice).


Addressing editors and senior representatives of both print and electronic media at Janadhipathi Mandiraya on the morning of Sept. 17, 2018, President Sirisena emphasized the need to record Sri Lanka’s war history. The writer was among those present on that occasion. President Sirisena, discussed the high profile project towards the end of his speech in which he flayed the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) over its handing of investigations into several key cases, including wartime disappearances involving the Navy.


President Sirisena revealed him having a meeting with retired security forces commanders over a month ago to discuss proposed project to record the war history. President Sirisena, however, didn’t say war winning Army Commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka was among those present. Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, too, wasn’t present though a successful project required Rajapaksa’s assistance. One-time Commanding Officer of the First Battalion of the Gajaba Regiment and Defence Secretary Rajapaksa played a significant role in the overall war strategy.


President Sirisena emphasized that he expected a comprehensive dossier which covered all aspects of the conflict and the circumstances leading to the conflict. President Sirisena pointed out that nearly a decade after the conclusion of the war Sri Lanka lacked an authentic report on the conflict. President Sirisena stressed that the proposed project should cover critical aspects such as the circumstances leading to the war, what was the background to the conflict, the formation of the LTTE, military operations conducted since 1980s, Operation Jayasikurui, battlefield victories and defeats and the arrival of the Indian Army. President Sirisena said that there was no official government record on the war. Turning towards Defence Secretary Kapila Waidyaratne, President sought confirmation of the project which involved the Universities of Colombo and Sri Jayewardenapura. President Sirisena assured that an impartial and balanced report would be produced. The President said that the project would take two to three years to complete and such a project would be of pivotal importance.


Wijeyadasa’s task


Higher Education and Cultural Affairs Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, is in charge of the President’s project. In addition to those responsible for the latest edition of the Mahawamsa, Dr. Rajapakse is expected to finalize the team soon. It would be interesting to know how the team tackled sensitive issues such as war crimes allegations leading to punitive international action against selected military officers. Chagie Gallage is in quandary today for no fault of his. It is a case in point. Gallage, who had kept low profile during the war didn’t mince his words when he addressed the war crimes issue in a way no one else had done before. In his farewell speech at Gajaba home at Saliyapura, Gallage dealt with a range of issues on the eve of the 35th anniversary of the Gajaba Regiment. There had never been a previous instance of an officer having the courage to declare at a farewell banquet him being categorized as a war criminal. "So, I’m happy to be retired being a tiny particle of that proud chapter of the history, though designated as a ‘War Criminal.’


Recording Sri Lanka’s war history will not be an easy task. It’ll be a challenging task for Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, elected to current parliament on the UNP ticket. A proper recording of the events leading to the war, the war and post-war developments will help the country to clear its name and expose those responsible for over three decades long war finally brought to an end in May 2009.


To be continued on Oct 3


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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