Sunday, June 11, 2006

Govt says report unfair, arbitrary

Following is the text of the government’s statement in response to the SLMM report.

The Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) expresses concern on the release of a document dated 4 June 2006, the Report of the SLMM, on the implementation of the Agreements reached between the GOSL and the LTTE at the Geneva Talks of 22-23 February 2006. It had been agreed that such a report was to be submitted at the second session of the CFA talks to be held on 19-26 April 2006 in Geneva, which however was aborted due to the LTTE's unwillingness to attend the said meeting following its naked violations of the CFA. In fact it was precisely during the period that the second round of Geneva Talks was earlier scheduled to take place that the LTTE attempted to assassinate the Army Commander on the 25th of April when a female suicide bomber exploded the bomb concealed on her person killing nine persons in the vicinity. The restrained manner in which the Government responded to the terror unleashed by the LTTE has been commended by the international community.

Leaving aside the timing of the release of the report, the GOSL is dismayed by the attempt by the Head of the SLMM through the said report to cast aspersions on the conduct of the GOSL. The Report itself confesses in paragraph 4 page 1 that it "has been somewhat difficult for SLMM to inquire into vague and general accusations with very few concrete facts" and that "more time is needed to finalize the inquiries in a professional manner and to all respective parties to respond to the allegations". If there are difficulties which the SLMM has encountered in making proper findings it seems grossly unfair and arbitrary for the SLMM to come to a comprehensive and definitive finding that the GOSL remained unwilling to implement all of its commitments reached at the Geneva Talks of 22-23 February 2006.

The Report proceeds on the tacit premise that the spate of violence that took place from and after the conclusion of Geneva talks was occasioned by the deplorable assassination of Mr. Vigneswaran in Trincomalee of 7 April 2006, an act condemned by the GOSL, and that the admitted violence perpetrated by the LTTE on the armed forces was their way of seeking to pressure the government. While it is self evident that the core object of terrorism is to pressure the governments, the strategy of seeking to pressurize the government, by acts of murder, violence and sabotage, has been the hallmark of the conduct of the LTTE for over three decades. The premise that this spate violence was sparked off by the murder of Mr. Vigneswaran on 7 April is clearly unfounded and contrary to the facts. It is an undeniable fact that the LTTE attacked a Dvora fast attack craft of the Sri Lanka Navy while it was on routine patrol duties killing 8 sailors and wounding 11 on the 25 March 2006 off Kudiramalai point, South of Mannar, amounting to a gross violation of the CFA which the SLMM has conveniently ignored. Furthermore, the LTTE has killed 22 and injured 22 persons from 23 April 2006 through 7 April 2006. Each such incident was a blatant violation of the CFA. This not so subtle attempt to find justification for the LTTE's campaign of terror is not acceptable.

Furthermore, the LTTE targeted and killed 173 members of the armed forces, most of them unarmed and going on leave or returning from leave between the 17 November and 7 April 2006, which facts again have been overlooked or omitted by the SLMM in its report. It appears that the SLMM is making the 7 April 2006 the genesis of all violence and closing their eyes to events between 23 February 2006 and the 7th April 2006, which is the reporting period.
LTTE cadres participating in a military exercise

The GOSL has denied that there are 'paramilitary groups' as defined in the CFA operating in government controlled areas. The GOSL stands by that position. The Karuna group is a faction of the LTTE. The contention of the SLMM that there is complicity with the armed forces in many of the murders of civilians is based entirely on the vague footing that some of them took place near army camps and that the perpetrators of such killings are alleged to have fled to 'GoSL controlled areas'. The dividing line between areas directly controlled by the GOSL and those which the LTTE exercises dominance being well over 600 metres, it is physically impossible for the government to monitor all movements into and out of such areas. This dividing line is much blurred and ambiguous particularly in the Eastern province. The alleged fact that the killing of many civilians took place in the vicinity of establishments of the army is incapable of leading to the inference of the complicity of the army in such killings - for the attempted murder of the Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka, and the murder of his escorts took place not in the vicinity of an army camp but within army headquarters itself and it could hardly be contended that the army had any complicity in the commission of that foul act.

Further evidence of the disregard for the truth is to be found in the statement that at least 88 servicemen were 'killed in action'. In fact, every one of these servicemen were murdered by the LTTE either when going home on leave unarmed or returning from home unarmed or doing sedentary duties at bunkers and check points. The impression sought to be created by the use of the words 'killed in action' is that those murdered servicemen were not specifically targeted but happened to be killed while engaged in military operations against the LTTE.

Another example of this bias is to be found in the statements that while the LTTE were the most likely perpetrator of violence against the armed forces, one cannot rule out some attacks having been committed by some other unnamed 'and unknown' elements. The very thought that there could be some third party (which is not the LTTE) adept at committing mass murder tantamount to crimes against humanity with the use of claymore mines and other sophisticated weapons echoes the cynical propaganda of the LTTE whenever they are accused of attacking the armed forces on land or at sea.

Another pointer to a bias in the SLMM Report is the reference to the alleged disappearance of four civilians at Pesalai following the deadly claymore mine attack on Naval personnel on 23 December 2005, whereas the SLMM report is expected to cover incidents from and after the Geneva Talks on 22-23 February 2006. It appears that the SLMM recalls an incident prior to the Geneva talks only for the purpose of castigating the GOSL, while omitting any acts of violence of the LTTE in the year 2005 or previously.

Another unfounded and prejudicial comment made by the SLMM is that the GOSL showed little willingness to accept requests made by the LTTE aimed at normalizing the situation. The 'requests' referred to in the Report appear to be the requests made by the LTTE for transport by Air Force helicopter for its cadres to attend a meeting in Kilinochchi. The privilege of being transported by Air Force helicopter, which was extended to the LTTE in the past, was stopped following the cowardly assassination of the late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar by the LTTE.

The SLMM is aware of the fact that while the GOSL did make alternative arrangements, which it was by no means obliged to do in terms of the CFA, these were rejected by the LTTE, namely: (a) security escort on a road movement, (b) Sri Lankan Navy ferry for a sea movement, (c) civilian ferry, (d) a civilian helicopter, (e) a civilian float plane. It was the LTTE that spurned these offers of assistance. Thus, to comment on the GOSL's unwillingness to 'accommodate' LTTE requests while ignoring the political will of the Government in going out the extra mile to arrange safe transport for LTTE cadres and ignoring in its entirety the obduracy of the LTTE to accept transport arrangements other than those which 'they had demanded' surely lacks impartiality.

As regards the opening of political offices of the LTTE the ceasefire agreement entitles the LTTE to do political work in cleared areas but does not entitle it to open political offices therein. The right to open political offices in government controlled areas was, therefore, a privilege granted to them as a measure of goodwill and confidence. SLMM Report completely ignores the fact that the LTTE abused that privilege by using those offices to organize and engage in violent anti-Government and anti-civilian activities and other illegal activities such as child recruitment, extortion, covert intelligence operations that were totally contrary to the CFA in that they do not build confidence but destroy it. SLMM also ignores the fact that even after the LTTE closed those offices on their own accord the government did permit them to open such offices but with conditions on matters relating to security, which are those which are imposed on other political parties to open political offices in any other part of the country. It is important to note that SLMM has failed to recognize that no political activity whatsoever is permitted in the uncleared area by the LTTE unless such activities are those of or in support of the LTTE which claims to be the sole-representative of the Tamils. The SLMM has also totally ignored and failed to record the fact that the LTTE has continued to deny access to its illegal aviation facility established contrary to United Nations Security Council Resolutions, national and international law.

Another finding of the SLMM that calls for comment is the observation that there was in Jaffna a campaign of targeted killings since 10th April 2006 and that in May there were two grave incidents which demonstrated a new development where gunmen targeted groups of civilians instead of individuals. While the SLMM does not name the perpetrators of these killings they completely ignore the fact that neither the targeted killings of civilians nor the killings of groups of civilians is a new phenomenon which commenced in April or May 2006. This is what the LTTE has been doing for well over three decades (during which time they murdered prominent Tamil citizens in the North and East and committed many indiscriminate acts of mass murders) and that they continue to do so even after the Geneva talks of February 2006. It is indeed a surprise that the SLMM totally ignores and does not make even a passing reference to the murders of 6 peasant cultivators at Gomarankadawela on 23 April 2006, the murder of 7 civilian wild-life enthusiasts in the Wilpattu National Park, and the more recent murders of 12 labourers engaged in the repair of an irrigation work who were shot with their hands tied behind their backs by the LTTE at Omidiyamadhu near Welikanda on 30 May 2006.

The obligation to desist from violence is one which is imposed on both parties and is a reciprocal obligation which is fundamental to the whole agreement. It is clear that the LTTE has repudiated its undertakings both under the original CFA of February 2002 as well as in the Communique dated 23rd February 2006 at Geneva. In the circumstances we reject the allegations and speculations made in the report issued by the head of the SLMM on 4th June 2006 as ill-founded and as being made in bad faith to blame the armed forces for these incidents.

The distinctly biased attitude against the GOSL is also evident in the last paragraph of the report made by the Head of the SLMM where in magisterial fashion he presumes to comment on the legal system and the practice of democracy in Sri Lanka for which he has no personal or official mandate and which are beyond the scope of his functions in terms of the CFA and the duty to report on violations of the CFA from and after the 22 February 2006.

It is also pertinent to refer to a statement made by Major General Ulf Henricsson, at the time the EU was deliberating whether to list the LTTE as a terrorist organization. Major General Henricsson stated: "I'm not sure the EU ban is coming at the right time. Worse-case scenario might be that the LTTE thinks it is abandoned by everyone and there is not alternative to a full-scale guerilla war. They target Colombo, tourist resources - investors leave, tourists leave, rich people leave." (Times, UK, May 20, 2006). These ill-considered comments, which border on the realm of speculation at best, could indeed incite the LTTE to engage in violence and produce the very outcome that Major General Ulf Henricsson has speculated on. Such comments do not signify the highest level of professionalism that is required of the Head of the SLMM.

In conclusion, while the GOSL is appreciative of the tasks and challenges faced by the SLMM in carrying out its mandate, it has serious concerns about both the timing as well as the contents of the SLMM Report which in turn also raises serious questions about the impartiality of the SLMM. Meanwhile, the GOSL remains committed to discussing the modalities of operation of the SLMM in Oslo to which it readily agreed on the understanding that it should not be seen a substitute for the second round of Geneva talks.


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