‘A section of int’l community prolonged war’



By Shamindra Ferdinando


 


Former Peace Secretariat Chief UPFA MP Professor Rajiva Wijesinha yesterday launched a scathing attack on a section of the UN hierarchy and other international players for backing LTTE terrorism, thereby prolonging Sri Lanka’s war.


In his presentation before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, headed by former Attorney General C. R. de Silva, at the Kadirgamar International Institute for Foreign Relations, MP Wijesinha said that the then UNP-led UNF government had allowed funds to be granted to the LTTE even at the tail end of their administration in December 2003.


The then President Chandrika Kumaratunga dissolved Wickremesinghe’s administration in February 2004 and called fresh elections in early April.


Prof. Wijesinha said that Bradman Weerakoon, the then Secretary to Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, had handled the transactions with the LTTE in most of the cases.


Prof. Wijesinha said that the UNDP and Norway had said that funds were transferred to the LTTE with the knowledge of the UNF administration. For want of scrutiny on the part of the government and the donors, the LTTE had an opportunity to use funds as it pleased, he said.


The UNICEF had, Prof. Wijesinha said, gone to the extent of donating $ 1 million for rehabilitation of child recruits. Pointing out the absurdity of financing an LTTE project, MP Wijesinghe said that the LTTE had continued the despicable practice though a section of the international community believed the group would change.


Prof. Wijesinha said that a lady called Joanna van Gerpen, who had been Head of UNICEF until 2007, at her first meeting with him declared that the LTTE would shortly be releasing all combatants under 17. Wijesinghe said: "I told her I thought this was what they had agreed to do five years previously, but she said that they had tried, but the LTTE would now really honour the promise."


The failure on the part of the UN to publicly condemn the LTTE even when members of families of NGOs had been taken at gun point, made the situation worse, Prof. Wijesinha said.


He said: "This was actively promoted by some of Wickremesinghe’s advisers, in particular Bradman Weerakoon, who initiated funding projects for the LTTE that allowed them to build up their image. When I asked them about funds given to the LTTE Peace Secretariat, both, the Head of UNDP and the last Norwegian Ambassador, Tore Hattrem, claimed that it was being done with permission of the government, a point I did not contest. My point was that they had not monitored what was done with the money, and that they should upbraid the LTTE for using the equipment and funds provided to glorify suicide bombers. Hattrem, I am happy to say, reported that he had requested the LTTE to remove the offending items, though of course they ignored him.


The general lack of monitoring allowed the LTTE in effect to run riot. I should note that I believe we, too, were at fault in not following up ourselves on funds that were given to the LTTE with our consent."


Prof. Wijesinha said many UN officials had thought there was something wrong with President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s newly elected government, which firmly dealt with terrorism after having made an abortive bid to negotiate.


He said that the situation would have been different had the UN and other international players brought pressure to bear on the LTTE.


Wijesinha said that he had taken up what he called, the deafening silence, on the part of the UNDP in his first meeting with the new UNDP representative, Neil Buhne. He said: "Buhne told me that he thought the UN had mentioned recruitment of children in its reports. I asked him to show an instance of this to me, but he was unable to do so, and had to acknowledge that this appeared only in confidential reports. Indeed he practically confessed to me the reason for all this, when I upbraided him more than a year later on the silence of the UN on the failure of the LTTE to release the international UN staff who had gone into LTTE controlled territory in January 2009. When I noted that a much less serious breach on our part would have been highlighted by the UN, he said, ‘But you guys wouldn’t…..’. He paused then, but I could finish the sentence for him – obviously what he meant was that we would not harm the UN whereas the LTTE would."


Pro. Wijesinha said that there had been a tremendous change in attitude on the part of Buhne, as well as the Heads of OCHA and UNICEF who came to Sri Lanka in 2007. "They were of a different mindset, and did their best to work together with government, sometimes despite opposition from some of their staff who still saw the LTTE as innocent victims. At the latter’s farewell party, Mr. Buhne testified to the achievement of Mr Duamelle, the recently departed Head of UNICEF, in winning the trust of the Sri Lankans, and I can vouch for this, since by 2008 he and the TMVP were working together to ensure that there were no child soldiers in the custody of the latter."


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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