Vanni battle: If President, Defence Secy were clueless, who knew of ‘real’ situ on Vanni East front-SL

By Shamindra Ferdinando

A Sri Lanka government official says that Indian claims that President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa hadn’t been aware of the real situation on the Vanni east front during the last phase of the war are groundless.

The official says the President and the Defence Secretary had been fully aware of the progress throughout the military offensive beginning in the East in early September 2006 to May 2009 and also the post-war developments.

He was responding to the latest Wikileaks revelation that Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Foreign Secretary Shiv Shanker Menon following separate visits to Colombo early 2009, said that the Rajapaksa brothers hadn’t been aware of the ground situation.

President Rajapaksa categorically rejected accusations about the mounting civilian casualties, according to US embassy cables revealed by Wikileaks.

At the same time, India wanted Sri Lanka to be "more discriminating" in how they screened the Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and look at those who actually posed a threat than keeping everybody "associated" with the LTTE in custody.

Sources said that President Rajapaksa never missed a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) during the campaign, while the Defence Secretary oversaw the combined security forces action. "In the wake of India’s claim that the Rajapaksa brothers hadn’t been aware of the ground situation, the question is if they weren’t who actually knew of the developments. In spite of heavy LTTE resistance, the President ordered a halt to air and artillery strikes on the last LTTE-held territory in the final phase. And we went to the extent of giving access to Colombo-based diplomatic community UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) footage of the Army rescuing civilians held at gun point."

Sri Lanka’s No 2 at the UN Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, the then General Officer Commanding (GOC) 58 Division told The Island that the Army refrained from using heavy weapons at LTTE fortifications even at the expense of the fighting troops.

A senior government official told The Island that the President had been briefed of the ups and downs of the offensive. The bottom line was the President knew of the battle-field progress until the conclusion of mopping up operations on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon on May 19, 2009.

Responding to a query by The Island, another official said that the government went to the extent of allowing the ICRC to evacuate those wounded on the Vanni east front from Puthumathalan, Mullaitivu. According to him, many wounded LTTE cadres had used that opportunity to leave the battle zone and reach Pulmoddai, where under an agreement between the Sri Lankan and Indian governments, New Delhi stationed medical teams to treat the wounded. Once the fighting came to an end, the Indian contingent moved into Menik Farm, where it played an important role in providing services to the IDPs, the official said.

Sources said that even the top LTTE leadership could have surrendered to the Army along with thousands of terrorists, who gave themselves up without any pre-conditions. At the conclusion of the war, the Army held some 11,600 terrorists (both surrendered and identified among civilians) and close to 300,000 civilians, but today the vast majority of them had been released.

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