Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday lashed out at the UN experts panel report on the conduct of the Sri Lanka government and armed forces during the last stages of the war against the LTTE in 2009, saying there was an agenda behind the report and if the United Nations cannot protect one of its member states, Sri Lanka will be forced to look for protection from Russia and China.
He said the UN seemed to have been “hi-jacked by some countries” and that Sri Lanka as a member-state of the UN needs its protection. “This will push us to other countries to protect us. The UN should not be a pawn of some countries,” he added.
Mr. Rajapaksa said the experts panel was “white-washing the LTTE” and had failed to recognise that the LTTE was a terrorist organisation which, at one time, had control of one third of the country.
“The LTTE had an air wing and a sea wing in addition to cadres fighting on land. It sent suicide bombers to the south and bombed civilian buses and buildings and targeted politicians. It overran army camps and killed thousands in one night. This was not an organisation that could be neutralised by the police. The UN, the US, Norway and others, told us we can’t fight such a ferocious enemy. We had to send in our armed forces and use superior fire-power to overcome them”.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said the UN report seemed to have ignored reports of UN agencies like the World Food programme (WFP) or the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
“Had they asked the WFP or the ICRC, they would have been told how humanitarian aid including food was distributed to civilians caught up in the fighting during the last stages of the war. It was the LTTE that held these civilians as human shields. In the final days, the LTTE had forced them into a lagoon area. When food convoys could not reach them because of the water that surrounded them, we allowed the LTTE to even pick up the food from the sea and hand it over to the civilians”.
He said there was a Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance (CCHA), a high level government body that included several foreign ambassadors, UN agencies and NGOs that over-looked humanitarian aid during the height of the fighting.
“We have a legal process in Sri Lanka with a democratically elected President. When fathers and mothers can’t send their children to school, or they are abducted by the LTTE to fight for them, and when two parents don’t travel in the same bus because of the fear of LTTE bombs, or when people praying in mosques and student monks are killed, it is the duty and the responsibility of the government towards the people who elect it to protect them by eliminating the scourge of terrorism.
Answering some specific issues raised in the UN report (a summary of which is published on Page 10), Secretary Rajapaksa said one of the issues raised was about disappearances or missing persons. He pointed out that 6,000 government soldiers were killed during the last four years of fighting and 20,000 injured of whom 10,000 were critically wounded.
He said the the LTTE’s casualty rate had to be greater because the military had superior firepower. “When people complain that someone is missing it could well mean that he was killed in action fighting for the LTTE, but they don’t say that. They only say he is missing.” He estimated the number of LTTE cadres who died in battle to be close to 30,000.
Referring to a passage in the report that states that the Army fired on hospitals during the last stages of the war, the Defence Secretary said he had it “in writing” that the hospital had been vacated before the firing had started. “The LTTE moved its heavy guns close to the hospital and started firing at us. We retaliated only after the patients and doctors had left. We dropped leaflets, announced on loud-speakers, declared no-fire zones and had restrictions (on the use of heavy artillery). The report should have taken into account the amount of heavy artillery used by the LTTE. We had a clear justification for the use of force”.
Describing the report as an unreasonable analysis, the Defence Secretary admitted that the government should have better engaged the UN on this entire issue. He said there was an argument that the report was orchestrated by “certain western powers” and therefore Sri Lanka should challenge its legitimacy and the procedures adopted.
“We will now engage with the UN provided it has no hidden agendas,” he said. “The UN must see the benefits that have accrued to the people as a result of the end of terrorism. It takes time to bring in changes and change the mind-set of the people who have been under the influence of the LTTE for a quarter of a century, but normalcy is quietly returning to the once war-ravaged north and east and the people will benefit in time to come with the return of peace,” he added.