Ex-Jaffna Commander highlights threat on ‘media front’

…lashes out at Colonel R. Hariharan

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Retired Brigadier H. F. Rupesinghe says the media remains a key element in the LTTE arsenal though the group lost its conventional military capability in May 2009.

The LTTE rump and its supporters both here and abroad are working overtime to offset the debilitating battlefield defeat through a media onslaught, the former Jaffna Security Forces Commander says.  

In an interview with The Island, the retired Artillery Officer said that in spite of the collapse of the LTTE on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, those pursuing Velupillai’s macabre eelam project still engaged the government on the ‘media front.’

The unsubstantiated ‘war crime’ allegations targeting the country’s political and military leaders are obviously a part of an overall strategy aimed at avenging the elimination of the LTTE leadership and to advance the Eelam cause through the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) led by one-time LTTE legal advisor V. Rudrakumaran.   

The government and intelligence services should take tangible measures to neutralize ongoing efforts to destabilize the country by negative propaganda carried out by INGOs, NGOs and some individuals with vested interests.

Responding to a query, an irate Rupesinghe lashed out at Colonel R. Hahiharan, formerly of the IPKF for taking up Sri Lanka bashing as military intelligence specialist on South Asian Affairs. Had anyone bothered to peruse the ex-IPKF, officer’s articles, particularly pieces titled "Sri Lanka’s Credibility Gap" and "Look back at the Indo-Lanka Accord" India’s ill-feeling towards Sri Lanka was apparent, Rupesinghe said.

The Island: When did you join the Army?

Rupesinghe: In 1958. My father was angry and disappointed as I was preparing to sit for my final examination at the Sri Lanka Law College. Much of my military service was in Mannar, Jaffna and Trincomalee, and on the staff at Army Headquarters.

The Island: When did you retire?

Rupesinghe: I was to retire in June 1986. I applied for my leave prior to retirement when I was Security Forces Commander, Jaffna, though I was asked to continue in service under some provisions then adopted to legitimize service beyond the retiring age. This provision was referred to as the "Pay and Pensions" scheme. This scheme was done away with after the election of President Chandrika Kumaratunga in August 1994, when I finally terminated my military service"

In spite of being almost 80, the old soldier is very well conversant with the latest developments relating to ongoing efforts to haul Sri Lankan leaders before an international tribunal over so-called accountability issues. A section of the international community and some of those media personalities still couldn’t accept Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism, Rupesinghe said. Referring to a recent referendum in Sudan, Rupesinghe said: "They are seeking to create conditions to pave the way for Sudan style intervention here, though there are sharp differences in the situations. For them, the key to their success is INGOs and the media, which will engage in anti-Sri Lanka campaign at the behest of various donors."

The Island: You alleged that a section you the media of playing ball with the LTTE and those funding the separatist project here. Can elaborate?

Rupesinghe: I received information about their ‘media operation’ directed from Chennai way back in 1986. I was the senior officer in charge of Jaffna at that time and had to deal with foreign correspondents. It is quite apparent that the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi threw his weight behind the LTTE at the behest of the LTTE’s Chennai-based Advisory Committee, which functioned as the headquarters for the LTTE and a key agency for the Tamil Diaspora in quest of a nation for the Tamils the world over. During a conversation with an American journalist I expressed shock and regret over an influential section of the international media being biased towards Tamil terrorist groups, while being critical of the Sri Lankan security forces. The American revealed the existence of the Chennai-based Advisory Committee of the LTTE and its monthly meetings with the participation of many correspondents for various print and electronic media, including the wire services. The Americans admitted that he participated in two meetings in Chennai, where they discussed an anti-Sri Lanka propaganda campaign. The American revealed that the LTTE looked after the journalists well.

The Island: Did the then government allow foreign journalists to visit Jaffna in the pre-IPKF period?

Rupesinghe: It wasn’t long after the American’s visit, that a BBC correspondent accompanied by an Australian, who was introduced to me as the BBC man’s understudy, arrived in Jaffna. They contacted the Jaffna Command and inquired whether I as Security Forces Commander in Jaffna wanted to meet them. They were told that I wasn’t interested in meeting them unless they wanted a meeting. That was part of their strategy to step up pressure on the government. I knew they represented the interests of the LTTE. As the BBC correspondent was setting his voice recorder, I inquired from the Australian whether he had been to Chennai recently. The Australian blushed and turned towards the BBC correspondent, who grudgingly admitted their sojourn in Chennai ten days ago.

The BBC guy inquired whether my troops move out Palaly or I travel overland from Palali to Jaffna. I explained that troops moved out of Palaly to collect their rations from KKS harbor. In response to his second query, I said it was the policy of the government to create situations, which could lead to unnecessary civilian casualties and deaths and terrorism would be crushed with the support of the local Tamil speaking population. The BBC didn’t use my comments obviously because they didn’t serve their propaganda purposes.

Rupesinghe said that the same BBC correspondent gave wide coverage to a statement attributed to his predecessor, who foolishly said: "the domination by security forces extend only up to the perimeter fences of their camps." "We were greatly embarrassed. The then National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali was furious and expressed his concerns and disappointment to the officer concerned.

 The Island: You strongly criticized Colonel Hariharan and went to the extent of blaming him for undermining Sri Lanka. Did you come across him during your military career?

Rupesinghe: The Colonel comments on security issues as former intelligence head of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) during 1987 and 1990. Obviously, he is disappointed that our armed forces had the strength to destroy the LTTE’s conventional military capability and also wipe out its leadership. Hariharan couldn’t be unaware of how India created a monster to facilitate its Sri Lankan strategy, though the likes of Colonel Hariharan had conveniently forgotten sordid Indian operations here.

The Island: Colonel Hariharan in a piece captioned Looking back at the Indo-Sri Lanka accord last July, identified the then Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President JR Jayewardene as the architects of the infamous pact. As a serving officer at the time of the deployment of the IPKF in the immediate aftermath of New Delhi forcing Colombo to halt ‘Operation Liberation’ to regain Jaffna peninsula, do you agree with the retired Indian officer’s assertion?

Rupesinghe: It is nothing but a lie. It is unfair by JRJ to describe as one of the architects of the July 1987 accord. The President wasn’t a willing signatory. Had JRJ agreed for Indian intervention, he wouldn’t have ordered ‘Operation Liberation’ prompting New Delhi to violate Sri Lankan waters and air space in a bid to intimidate the country. Those who are targeting Sri Lanka on the ‘human rights front’ should be reminded of how terrorism engulfed the entire country, while the international community looked the other way.

Referring to a recent intervention by Jaffna-based Indian Counsel General in the work of Point Pedro Magistrate following the arrest of a group of Indian fishermen poaching in northern waters, Rupesinghe said JRJ had to cope with what he called ‘filibustering tantrums’ of the then Indian HC J.N. Dixit. His unbecoming conduct earned him the epithet of Viceroy reminiscent of the viceroys of India under British rule.

The Island: Who is behind the Indo-Lanka accord?

Rupesinghe: The likes of Colonel Hariharan are making a ridiculous bid to shield the real architects of the accord. The bottom line is that New Delhi had formed terrorist groups to destabilize Sri Lanka and create a situation, which would compel Colombo to call for direct Indian military intervention. But when JRJ decided to regain Jaffna, New Delhi had no option but to force the so-called Indo-Lanka agreement down JRJ’s throat. The decision to destabilize Sri Lanka couldn’t have been taken by one person, but a group of people, who wielded both political and military clout.

The Island: Your comments on war crime allegations against Sri Lanka

Rupesinghe: Those targeting Sri Lanka should also inquire into what is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. Colonel Hariharan in a piece captioned ‘Sri Lanka’s Credibility Gap’ last July revealed the absurdity in his position with regard to accountability issues pursued by the international community. The international community demanded Sri Lanka adhered to the Norwegian-arranged CFA even after the LTTE sniped Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar at his Colombo residence. Could there be any other act as provocative as the assassination of Minister Kadirgamar, who had been at the forefront of Sri Lanka’s campaign abroad targeting the LTTE.

(To be continued) 

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