Showing posts with label General Sarath Fonseka. Show all posts
Showing posts with label General Sarath Fonseka. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gen. Fonseka does a volte-face over charges against Army

by B.Muralidhar Reddy

Less than 24 hours after his sensational statement that Sri Lanka Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa had instructed a ground commander in the battle zone during the last phase of the Eelam War IV (May 16 to May 19) to shoot all LTTE leaders that had come out waving a white flag with the intention of surrendering to the military, the retired General and contender for the January 26 presidential poll, Sarath Fonseka did a volte-face.

At a hastily convened news conference on Monday afternoon, the former Army Chief said he is responsible for all the actions of the security forces commanders and forces on the ground throughout the war against the LTTE and no field commander acted in violation of any international law.

The retraction of Gen. (retd) Fonseka came after the government not only categorically denied the charges levelled by the commander turned politician as ‘motivated’, but also said that it was examining the contents of the interview for possible legal action. According to a senior government functionary, the statement, made in the course of an interview for an English weekly, has been referred to the Attorney General for his legal opinion.

True import of comment

Media Secretary to the former Army Chief, Ajit, told The Hindu, “At the hurriedly convened press briefing, the General explained the true import of his comment in his response to a question on the sequence of events during the last days of the war and talked about how senior functionaries in the government are hurling cooked up allegations against him by misinterpreting a media statement made by him.”

Political circles here believe that Gen. (retd) Fonseka chose to distance himself from the controversial statement in the course of the interview after senior opposition leaders pointed out to him that it would not only deprive him of the plank of ‘sole hero’ of the war against the LTTE, but would also be self-inflicting, as he cannot disassociate himself from the actions of the military he led.

The controversy triggered by the remarks of the retired General in the interview and the response of the government has left many in the island nation worried about the dangers of further politicisation of the military and the already divided polarisation of the ethnic communities.

Dominant sentiment in English daily

The dominant sentiment was captured by the English daily, Island in its editorial titled ‘An attempt at hara-kiri’. “There is a high octane performance on the part of government propagandists and their Opposition counterparts engaged in a ruthless mud-slinging contest. The government used to boast that it had ensured there were no irregularities in military purchases unlike in the past. But now, we are being told that while Fonseka was the army commander, his son-in-law was involved in some questionable business deals with the army.

“In the aftermath of Prabhakaran’s death, Fonseka pooh-poohed allegations of war crimes against the army. When asked, at the inaugural press conference after entering politics, to comment on moves being made in some quarters to press war crime charges against the Sri Lankan military, Fonseka said those who wanted to do so had to make specific charges with times, dates, locations, etc mentioned –– the implication being that the allegations levelled against Sri Lanka were baseless. He has also claimed on more than one occasion that he personally handled the successful ground operations which decapitated the LTTE.

“Now, we have Fonseka saying he has information that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa ordered a ground commander to kill the LTTE leaders who tried to surrender (The Sunday Leader, Dec. 13, 2009). As much as the government's allegations against Fonseka and his son-in-law are tantamount to a self-indictment, Fonseka's charge against Gotabhaya has seriously affected his own credibility, in that, he contradicts his much advertised claim that he alone commanded the victorious army. If Fonseka says that his ground commanders who steered the army to victory took orders from someone else, how could he justify his attempt to promote himself in politics as the man who won the war and seek the executive presidency in return, as it were?,” the paper asked.

Low note

With December 17 set as the D-day for filing of nomination papers to a keenly watched contest between the major opposition parties’ candidate retired General Sarath Fonseka and the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa, charges and counter-charges were anticipated but no one had expected the campaign to hit such a low note at this early a stage.

Several senior opposition leaders are privately discussing the possible adverse repercussions of the controversial interview of the retired General and consulting among themselves on ways and means to limit the damage. The retired General, who, during the day, filed three separate Fundamental Rights petitions before the Supreme Court seeking fair coverage for his campaign by the government media, is hosting a get together to select group of journalists later on Monday evening.

In the The Sunday Leader, General Fonseka has contended that he had no information communicated to him in the final days of the war that three key LTTE leaders had opted to surrender to the military.

“Fonseka charged that communications were instead confined between the LTTE leaders, Norway, various foreign parties, Basil Rajapaksa, Member of Parliament and the powerful senior adviser to the President, and such information was never conveyed to him as he supervised the final stages of the war,” the weekly reported.

The three LTTE leaders he is referring to are Balasingham Nadeshan, a former police constable of Sri Lanka police and the political head of the LTTE. Seevaratnam Pulidevan the head of the “LTTE peace secretariat” and Ramesh, a senior special commander of the military wing.

Fonseka told the weekly that he later learnt about what exactly had taken place as a result of journalists who had been embedded at the time with forces in the battle field.

Predictably the government hit back at the retired General. At a special news conference, Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister, Mahinda Samarasingha had said, “The interview of the retired General is a great betrayal of the nation, people of Sri Lanka and his former colleagues. Since the end of the Eelam War IV in the fourth week of May, there have been so many attempts by so many quarters to defame the security forces of Sri Lanka on charges of human rights violations but the simple truth is up to now no one has been able to prove anything.”

Contradicting himself

Mr. Samarasinghe maintained that the charges made by Gen. (retd) Fonseka are a contradiction of his own statement on July 10 at a function where he was facilitated for successfully leading the forces to militarily defeat the LTTE. He said that the contents of the speech have not only been reported by the local and international media but found a place in the 68-page U.S. State Department report of October 22 to the Congress on the war between the security forces and the LTTE.

The U.S. State Department report says, “July 10 – A media outlet reported on July 18 that at a celebratory event in Ambalangoda, Army Chief General Sarath Fonseka stated that the military had to overlook the traditional rules of war and even kill LTTE rebels who came to surrender carrying white flags during the war against the LTTE.”

Quoting from the media reports on the July 10 speech made by the then Army Chief, the Minister said that Fonseka at the function had gone to the extent of saying that he was under tremendous pressure from several quarters to order the ground troops not to shoot at the LTTE cadres and had taken the position that soldiers in the battle field who have staked their lives are the best judges to decide on such matters.

“It is instructive for every one to remember that Sri Lanka has emerged after 30 years of protracted war and there are forces still out there working for destabilitation of the island nation. We are sad and disappointed that Gen. (retd) Fonseka is wittingly or unwittingly working on their script,” the Minister said. - coutesy: The Hindu -

Tamil Diaspora urge to put Sri Lanka President on dock while Rajapakse says ready to go to gallows

(December 14, Colombo - Lanka Polity) Canadian Tamil Congress spokesman David Poopalapillai told IANS that the Tamil diaspora around the world is writing to the UN, the International Court of Justice and world leaders to put the Sri Lankan president on trial immediately.

"We are drafting our petition and will send it soon to the world leaders, including Canada and India, to put Mahinda Rajapaksa and his men in the dock for war crimes,'' he said.

"What more proof do world leaders and the international community now need to try the Sri Lankan president and his men for crimes against humanity?'' he asked commenting on Sri Lanka's ex-Army Commander Sarath Fonseka's statement to The Sunday Leader that Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, a brother of President Rajapakse, ordered to kill the Tamil rebel leaders that came with white flags to surrender. 

"Rajapaksa is a war criminal. He should be taken to The Hague to face trial for war crimes. No nation has violated the Geneva Convention as flagrantly as Sri Lanka. No nation ever killed the surrendering enemy.''

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse said yesterday (14) that he was ready to go to gallows on behalf of the 'war herpes'.

Fonseka named Sri Lanka Army Major General Shavendra Silva, a Brigadier who was leading operations under Fonseka, as the person of reception of the killing orders of the Defense Secretary.

Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse is a US citizen.

The majority Sinhala community respects the military and political leadership alike that crushed the violent armed struggle of Tamil nationalists. They vehemently oppose power sharing and want to maintain the Sinhala dominance in state apparatus. Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE), a rebel movement that had a de facto state in Northern and Eastern parts of the island was militarily defeated and almost all leaders were eliminated in the military operations that ended in May 2009 with the victory of the state Army. 

University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), an independent human rights organization in the Tamil polity in Sri Lanka stated in a recent report "for both parties, the key to military dominance lay not in brilliant strategies, but in an utter disregard for the lives of civilians and combatants alike, driven by their leaders’ single-minded pursuit of personal power."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fonseka's 'evidence' on war crime charges against Sri Lanka taking wings internationally

(December 13, Colombo - Lanka Polity) "This is a comment given by General Fonseka and he will come out with many more. We will not comment on what he says."

This was the response of the Army spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara to an AFP reporter when the latter asked the Brigadier to comment on the ex-Army Chief General Sarath Fonseka's statement that Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse ordered the commander of the army's 58th division, not to accommodate any LTTE (Tiger) leaders attempting to surrender and that they must all be killed.

However, the story has begun to spread in international media as analysts speculate backlash from the UN and other human rights bodies that urge for a probe on war crime charges in the last phase of the war with the Tamil Tigers. 

Fonseka's statement is the strongest evidence that has come out so far against Sri Lanka state and officials over war crime charges.

During the war's finale, the United States and other Western nations voiced alarm at Sri Lanka's treatment of non-combatants, along with its internment afterward of some 130,000 Tamil civilians. The U.S. State Department in October released a congressionally mandated report cataloguing accounts of shelling of civilians, killings, child-army recruitment and other abuses during Sri Lanka’s offensive against the separatists this year.

Sri Lanka's ex-Army chief cites evidence of war crimes of the rulers

(December 13, Colombo - Lanka Polity) Sri Lanka's opposition presidential candidate ex-Army Commander retired General Sarath Fonseka made a highly controversial statement today to The Sunday Leader newspaper unsettling the whole establishment including himself.

Immediately after the Sri Lankan rulers invigorated two selected investigations pertaining to intimidating and killing of media persons, for which the accusation finger was pointed at Fonseka by opposition and media, the latter said to the same newspaper the editor Lasantha Wickramathunga was brutally murdered on a busy highway in January that Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa instructed a key ground commander in the north that all Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) leaders must be killed and not allowed to surrender.

This is the first ever concrete evidence of war crimes suspected took place in the final phase of the war against the LTTE and UN Human Rights Council, the UN Security Council and other international bodies cannot overlook the former Army Commander's statement.

In an explosive interview with The Sunday Leader General Fonseka the then Army Commander  said he had no information communicated to him in the final days of the war that three key LTTE leaders had opted to surrender to Sri Lanka’s armed forces as the battle drew to a bloody finish.

Fonseka charged that communications were instead confined  between the LTTE leaders, Norway, various foreign parties, Basil Rajapaksa, Member of Parliament and the powerful senior adviser to the President and such information was never conveyed to him as he supervised the final stages of the war. “Later, I learnt that Basil had conveyed this information to the Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa – who in turn spoke with Brigadier Shavendra Silva, Commander of the Army’s 58th Division, giving orders not to accommodate any LTTE leaders attempting surrender and that “they must all be killed.”

General Fonseka explained how on the night of May 17th this year desperate efforts of three senior LTTE leaders trapped in the war zone to save their lives failed as they were instead shot dead as they prepared to surrender to government forces.

The government later claimed that troops found bodies of three key LTTE leaders identified as Nadesan, Pulidevan and Ramesh during the mop- up operations in the last LTTE stronghold on the morning of May 18.

General Fonseka said the incident took place as the remaining LTTE cadres were boxed into a 100m x 100m area, North of Vellamullivaikkal.

Balasingham Nadeshan  a former police constable of Sri Lanka police was the political head of the LTTE. Seevaratnam Pulidevan was the head of “LTTE peace secretariat” while Ramesh a senior special commander of the military wing.

Hours before they surrendered, in a flurry of emails, text messages and telephone calls between NGOs, a foreign government and Sri Lankan officials in Colombo, the two LTTE political leaders had frantically inquired as to how they could give themselves up.

They were told: “Get a piece of white cloth, put up your hands and walk towards the other side in a non-threatening manner.”

But the attempt to surrender by the three LTTE leader and their families failed. Sometime between midnight on 17 May and the early hours of the next morning, the three men and their family members were shot dead.

General Fonseka said it was Basil Rajapaksa together with the Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa who through foreign intermediaries conveyed a message back to the LTTE leaders who wished to surrender to walk out carrying a piece of white cloth.  “It was their idea,” he said.


When we contacted  Shavendra Silva, now promoted to Major General he sounded very shocked when told of the allegation but insisted he could not respond to this charge until he had clearance from the military spokesman.

Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told us he had to get clearance from the Army Commander Jagath Jayasuriya.

Later in the day the military spokesman said that he had contacted both the Army Commander and General Shavindra Silva and both had said that they would not comment on the matter.

The chief intermediary for the three LTTE men was the Norwegian government’s then Environment and Development Minister Erik Solheim. (Solheim is now the overseas development minister) On Sunday 17 May, Mr Solheim apparently received calls from LTTE figures who said they wanted to surrender.

The ICRC in Colombo later confirmed that it had received word from the Norwegians that the two leaders were looking to give themselves up. “The ICRC was approached on this matter by the representatives of the LTTE as well as the Norwegian authorities,”  spokeswoman Sarasi Wijeratne was quoted saying  at the time of the incident. “The information was referred to the Sri Lankan authorities. We have no idea what happened [then]. We lost contact with everyone in the last conflict.”

The government’s point man in the negotiations appears to have been former foreign secretary Palitha Kohona who is now Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the United nations  He was quoted by news agencies saying that in the days leading up to Sunday evening, he had received a number of messages indicating from Mr. Nadesan and Mr Pulidevan – whom he has met at various peace talks – wanting a way out.

In one interview with ‘SiberNews’ Mr. Kohona said that his response had been that “there was only one way to surrender that is recognised by military practice”. He said they should obtain a white flag and give themselves up. “I kept saying this for three days,” he added.

But General Fonseka maintains that Nadesan, Ramesh and Pulidevan had been shot dead by government troops as they advanced towards them carrying a white flag, as they had been instructed to do.

Fonseka said he later learnt about what exactly had taken place as a result of journalists who had been entrenched at the time with General Shavendra Silva’s brigade command.  These reporter’s according to Fonseka  were privy to the telephone call received by the Army’s 58th Brigade Commander from the Defence Secretary –“telling him to not accommodate any LTTE surrenders but to simply go ahead and kill them.” – “These journalists later told me what exactly took place,” Fonseka said.
“Norway never got in touch” – Basil
Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa refuted this damning charge.  He told The Sunday Leader, “The Norwegians never got in touch with me over this particular incident.  I have been in touch with the Norwegians over various issues pertaining to the conflict but never once on this particular issue.”

When asked if he had been unaware then that three LTTE leaders were seeking surrender during the last stages of the war – Rajapaksa replied, “No. I won’t say that. But Norway never got in touch with me.”

Asked nevertheless if he did convey something to this effect to his brother and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Mr. Rajapaksa said “If I had not been informed by Norway in the first instance then obviously the second did not happen.”

Our attempts to contact Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa failed.  When we telephoned the Defence Ministry Friday we were told Mr. Rajapaksa had not been in office the entire day.  His staff refused to release any other telephone number.
A reader of The Sunday Leader commented as follows:

The War Crimes Tribunal and the international community should take note of the disclosures of Gen Sarath Fonseka, under whose watch the decades-long war was won. Perhaps, in the run-up to the Presidential election, we will learn more of the final phase of the war, and the innocent civilian blood that was shed to achieve that victory, hitherto censored from public knowledge. If this is not war crimes and crimes against humanity, what is?
Following is an excerpt from an encyclopedia on surrender:

Surrender is when soldiers, nations or other combatants stop fighting and eventually become prisoners of war, either as individuals or when ordered to by their officers. A White flag is a common symbol of surrender, as is the gesture of raising one's hands empty and open above one's head.

When the parties agree to terms the surrender may be conditional, i.e. if the surrendering party promises to submit only after the victor makes certain promises. Otherwise it is a surrender at discretion (unconditional surrender); the victor makes no promises of treatment other than those provided by the laws and customs of war  — most of which are laid out in the Hague Conventions (1907) and the Geneva Conventions . Normally a belligerent will only agree to surrender unconditionally if completely incapable of continuing hostilities.

The Third Geneva Convention  states that prisoners of war should not be mistreated or abused. United States Army  policy states that surrendered persons should be treated according to the "5 S's" until turned over to higher authority.
  • Silence: so that they cannot plan an escape attempt.
  • Search: for weapons or items of intelligence value.
  • Secure: tie up and/or guard carefully at all times, particularly at first.
  • Safeguard: do not allow the dangers of the battlefield to hurt them
  • Separate: soldiers from officers, men from women, combatant

    s from civilians, to make them easier to control.


(NWP1-14M, Section 11.7)

Combatants cease to be subject to attack when they have individually laid down their arms to surrender, when they are no longer capable of resistance, or when the unit in which they are serving or embarked has surrendered or been captured.  However, the law of armed conflict does not precisely define when surrender takes effect or how it may be accomplished in practical terms.  Surrender involves an offer by the surrendering party (a unit or individual combatant) and an ability to accept on the part of the opponent.  The latter may not refuse an offer of surrender when communicated, but that communication must be made at a time when it can be received and properly acted upon - an attempt to surrender in the midst of a hard-fought battle is neither easily communicated nor received.  The issue is one of reasonableness.

Combatants who have surrendered or otherwise fallen into enemy hands are entitled to prisoner-of-war status and, as such, must be treated humanely and protected against violence, intimidation, insult, and public curiosity.  When prisoners of war are given medical treatment, no distinction among them will be based on any grounds other than medical ones.  Prisoners of war may be interrogated upon capture but are required to disclose only their name, rank, date of birth, and military serial number.  Torture, threats, or other coercive acts are prohibited.

Persons entitled to prisoner-of-war status upon capture include members of the regular armed forces, the militia and volunteer units fighting with the regular armed forces, and civilians accompanying the armed forces.  Militia, volunteers, guerrillas, and other partisans not fighting in association with the regular armed forces qualify for prisoner-of-war status upon capture, provided they are commanded by a person responsible for their conduct, are uniformed or bear a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance, carry their arms openly, and conduct their operations in accordance with the law of armed conflict.

Should a question arise regarding a captive's entitlement to prisoner-of-war status, that individual should be accorded prisoner-of-war treatment until a competent tribunal convened by the captor determines the status to which that individual is properly entitled.  Individuals captured as spies or as illegal combatants have the right to assert their claim of entitlement to prisoner-of-war status before a judicial tribunal and to have the question adjudicated.  Such persons have a right to be fairly tried for violations of the law of armed conflict and may not be summarily executed.

According to Wikipedia, clloquial definitions of war crime include violations of established protections of the laws of war, but also include failures to adhere to norms of procedure and rules of battle, such as attacking those displaying a flag of truce, or using that same flag as a ruse of war to mount an attack. Attacking enemy troops while they are being deployed by way of a parachute is not a war crime. However, Protocol I, Article 42 of the Geneva Conventions explicitly forbids attacking parachutists who eject from damaged airplanes, and surrendering parachutists once landed.War crimes include such acts as mistreatment of prisoners of war or civilians. War crimes are sometimes part of instances of mass murder and genocide though these crimes are more broadly covered under international humanitarian law described as crimes against humanity.

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