Some efforts to deter foreign participation - Post mortem on the war in upcoming military seminar


By Shamindra Ferdinando

With the Government of Sri Lanka increasingly coming under international pressure over the conduct of its political and military leaderships during the latter part of Vanni campaign (Mar 2007 to May 2009), a three-day international conference organized by the military later this month would give an opportunity for Sri Lanka to respond to constant allegations of excesses.

A senior military official told The Sunday Island that the seminar on Sri Lanka’s experience in defeating terrorism scheduled for May 31 to June 2 at the Galadari Hotel would also give a chance to those alleging war crimes to seek clarifications with regard to land, air and sea operations.

"We are open for a comprehensive discussion on all issues. The GoSL is confident those skeptical of our tactics on the ground and also at sea will take this opportunity," the official said.

Responding to a query, he said that in fact the military regrets that it didn’t organize the conference early this month in view of the release of ‘Darrsman Report’ commissioned by UNSG Ban Ki-moon..

This report alleged indiscriminate attacks on civilians, rape of Tamil speaking women and deliberate campaign to target hospitals in LTTE-held areas in the run-up to the final confrontation on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon on May 19, 2009.

Some NGOs at the behest of their donors have urged major militaries to boycott this seminar.

The military said that there had been no previous instance of a country eradicating a fully fledged terrorist organization, with considerable assets abroad.

"Since 1971, the military crushed two insurgencies by the majority Sinhala community in spite of all three services and the police being predominately Sinhala Buddhist. Thereafter we overcame the LTTE and we are proud of our record," another official said.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Army Commander Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya will address the gathering at the opening session on the first day of the conference.

There would be three sessions on the first day to deal with challenges and prospects of counter terrorism, evolution of LTTE and international networking and overview of counter-terrorism in Sri Lanka. Maj. Gen. (Retd) Kapila Hendavitharane and Lt. Col. T.S. Sallay will make presentations on evolution of LTTE and international networking, respectively.

The first session of the second day will focus on the liberation of the East with, Majors General Prasanna de Silva and Chagi Gallage scheduled to address the gatherings. Majors General Jagath Dias and Shavendra Silva will dominate the second session which will focus on the Vanni campaign, now at the centre of international controversy.

Former Army Chief Gen. Sarath Fonseka in the run-up Jan 2010 presidential polls alleged that Defence Secretary Rajapaksa bypasses him to order Shavendra Silva to execute surrendering LTTE leaders, a charge denied by both Rajapaksa and Silva.

Operations behind LTTE lines will dominate the second session. The briefing on Special Forces operations will be followed by brief comments on armour, artillery, signals, engineers, naval and air operations. The final session will focus on logistical and medical support and training.

The military said that the final day would focus on post-war scenario with presentations on resettlement, rehabilitation and reintegration of LTTE combatants to the society and national recovery process.

Interestingly, Dr. Rohan Gunaratne, chosen as a guest speaker at the seminar and to deliver the closing remarks had publicly expressed doubts about an outright military victory over the LTTE in early 2007 as the battle for the Eastern Province was coming to an end.

Bloomberg in a website report captioned ‘Sri Lanka Tamil Tiger rebels fight a war that cannot be won,’ posted on Mar. 21, 2007, quoted Dr Gunaratne as having said that ``Continuing the current spate of violence is not going to bring about a different outcome or change the status quo. ``Both parties have developed significant support to be able to recover from losses, but this type of warfare is protracted,’’ Gunaratna said.

The military regained the entire East by July 2007. The LTTE collapsed on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon in May 2009, proving the likes of Dr. Gunaratne wrong.

``What is needed is a negotiated settlement’’ Anusha Ondaatji  wrote in Mar 21 website report quoting head of terrorism research at Singapore’s Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies Dr. Gunaratne.

The military said that many doubted Sri Lanka’s capacity to sustain a high intensity ground offensive on the Vanni front, in the wake of severe economic woes partly caused by 2008 world economic slowdown. The forthcoming seminar would discuss the entire gamut of issues relation to Sri Lanka’s war on terror from different perspectives, the military said.

Sri Lanka would take advantage of the forum to reiterate the circumstances leading to all out war following the failure of Norway and Co-Chairs to the Peace Process, Norway, EU, US and Japan to force the LTTE back to the negotiating table. The LTTE quit the Oslo-led peace process in April 2003 during the then PM Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenure as the PM.  Eelam War IV erupted in Aug. 2006 with a large scale simultaneous LTTE offensive targeting Trinomalee and Jaffna frontline.

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