Controversy over dropping of Maj. Gen. Dias from ICRC event down under


By Shamindra Ferdinando

An urgent review of Sri Lanka’s relationship with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was necessary in the wake of the humanitarian agency’s refusal to accommodate Major General Jagath Dias, on a programme scheduled to be held in Australia, authoritative governmentsources told The Island on Tuesday night.

Perhaps, the ICRC’s presence here was no longer necessary due to the conclusion of the conflict four years ago, sources said, adding that the Defence Ministry and the armed forces  chiefs were in the process of formulating policy in response to punitive action taken against senior officers on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations directed at those in command of the fighting formations during Eelam war IV.

Maj. Gen. Dias had been sidelined for being the General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the 57 Division deployed on the Vanni central front. Subsequently, the Gajaba regiment veteran served at Sri Lanka’s diplomatic mission in Germany before receiving an appointment at army headquarters.

A senior official said that earlier, the US deprived senior army officers of prestigious courses on the basis of what is widely called the Leahy Law or Leahy Amendment, introduced by Patrick Leahy in 1997. He accused the ICRC of acting unfairly on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations directed at the army though there weren’t any specific accusations against the 57 Division.

The Leahy Amendment envisaged denial of military assistance to countries or at least specific units responsible for alleged atrocities unless tangible measures were taken against the perpetrators of violations.

Asked on what ground Maj. Gen. Dias was dropped from the programme, an ICRC spokesperson in Colombo said that the ICRC requested the Sri Lankan army to nominate a participant for a workshop on healthcare in danger situations, scheduled to be held in Sydney in December. Denying that it refused to accommodate Maj. Gen. Dias in the programme, the official said that procedural matters, relating to international travel, were beyond the control of the ICRC. The ICRC declined to clarify what it meant by procedural matters relating to international travel.

The Defence Ministry said that a section of the international community continued to humiliate Sri Lanka, for standing up to terrorism, after failing to settle the crisis through negotiations. As the ICRC had been deployed in Sri Lanka since 1989 on the invitation of the then government and it couldn’t have been unaware of the circumstances leading to the resumption of war in June 2006, the Defence Ministry said.

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