*Gota before Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission
Top ground commanders to speak on ‘Final Battle’

By Shamindra Ferdinando


Senior armed forces officers involved in air-sea-land operations in Eelam War IV will appear before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission shortly.

Chief of Defence Staff SLAF Commander Air Marshal Roshan Goonetilike, Navy Commander Vice Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, Army Chief Jagath Jayasuriya, Major General Kamal Gunaratne and Major General Shavindra Silva are expected to testify before the commission headed by former Attorney General C. R. de Silva.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa on Tuesday (Aug. 17) told the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission that the military could clarify the ground situation leading to the conclusion of the war in May last year.

Majors General Gunaratne and Silva spearheaded the 53 and 58 Divisions during the final phase of the offensive leading to the killing of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon. They will respond to war crimes allegations propagated by a section of the international community on the basis of former Army Chief General Sarath Fonseka’s pre-presidential election claim that Defence Secretary Rajapaksa had ordered the then General Officer Commanding (GOC) 58 Division Major General Silva not to take prisoners.

Asked by C. R. de Silva at the outset of the sittings whether the Defence Secretary would like to testify in camera, a smiling Rajapaksa said that he didn’t have anything to hide. Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said that Prabhakaran had made a desperate attempt to breach the army frontlines on the Vanni east front to take refuge in the jungles.

Responding to queries by the commission, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said that since the liberation of Kilinochchi in January 2009, the LTTE had gradually retreated towards the north-eastern coast taking the civilian population at gun point. The Gajaba veteran said that the LTTE went to the extent of carrying out a suicide attack on civilians seeking refuge in the government-held area east of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road.

Responding to criticism of indiscriminate offensive action on the Vanni east front, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said that the armed forces had carefully studied targets before neutralising them. He cited the successful air strike on LTTE Political Wing leader S. P. Thamilselvan as an example of accuracy of ‘real time’ intelligence and direct hit on the target.

Defence Secretary Rajapaksa explained an ICRC-led programme to educate security forces regarding humanitarian laws since 2003 and steps taken by the army to improve discipline among the fighting forces.

Responding to another query, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said that security forces would remain in the liberated areas, though the LTTE no longer retained a conventional military capability. The tough talking official said that the army was in the process of gradually releasing state-owned buildings and private property as part of their strategy to restore civil administration. He dismissed the assertion that the government would put up housing schemes in the Vanni region for security forces families.

Commenting on post-war security forces deployment in Jaffna, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said that they were in the process of surveying the land to identify what the military needed and went onto declare the government would pay for private land acquired by the army.

Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said that the government would retain land where Prabhakaran had his headquarters, LTTE headquarters and other key military facilities. He emphasised the importance of a sustained military presence, particularly in northern jungles to thwart any fresh LTTE plans to recruit and train cadres. Nothing could be as important as surveillance of seas to ensure the LTTE would not procure armaments from foreign sources and smuggle them in, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said.

Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said that despite constrains, the rehabilitation programmes for LTTE cadres in government custody were in progress. Defence Secretary Rajapaksa revealed that an agreement between the Defence Ministry and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) for rehabilitation of LTTE combatants had to be abandoned due to a difference of opinion involving the ICRC and IOM. Asked whether all detainees could be released within two years from the date of their arrest/surrender, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said that except hardcore cadres the rest could be released. As the war had ended in May 2009 the majority of detainees would be eligible for release in over six months in line with a presidential directive. Defence Secretary Rajapaksa underscored the fact that a sizeable number of detainees had been released in batches over the past several months.

Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said that the first batch of Tamil speaking police personnel were receiving training at Kalutara police training facility. According to him, the police had picked 500 youth out of some 6,000 applicants from the Jaffna peninsula for training at Kalutara. Once they completed their training they would be deployed in the North, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said.

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