Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, September 6, updated — Sri Lanka’s two top diplomats at the UN in New York took Press questions after they screened “Lies Agreed Upon,” of which the invitation from the president of the UN Correspondents’ Association stated, “Sri Lankan Authorities state, ‘this video directly challenges the assertions contained in the UK Channel 4 video, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields.'”
Inner City Press asked Palitha Kohona about his role in what are called the White Flag murders of surrendering Tamil Tiger leaders in May 2009. Kohona’s first answer included the suggestion to “pose the question to Mr. Nambiar.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s chief of staff Vijay Nambiar has never answered Inner City Press’ questions on this, but Nambiar told Al Jazeera that he “spoke to the foreign secretary at that time, Mr. Palitha Kohona.”
But Kohona on September 6 answered Inner City Press that as foreign secretary he has “no role” in the military. Pressed, he conceded that he spoke with Nambiar in a hotel, but said he couldn’t remember the substance of the conversation.
Nambiar said of Kohona, as well as Gotabaya and Mahinda Rajapaksa, that “the response from them was that they would be treated likes normal prisoners of war, if they raised the white flag they would be allowed to surrender.”
And then they were killed, at least Balasingham Nadesan and Seevaratnam Puleedevan.
Inner City Press asked Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative (and former military commander) Shavendra Silva about paragraphs in the UN Panel of Experts report which say his 58th Division was involved in the shelling of hospitals including the PTK hospital.
Silva first said that his 58th wasn’t named. Once Inner City Press read out loud the paragraph, which names the 55th and 58th Divisions, Silva said the report is incorrect, it was the 53rd Division, the 55th was elsewhere.
Inner City Press asked about the doctors in “Lies Agreed To,” and whether they were in government detention when they recanted what they’d previously said about the number of killed and the bombing of hospitals. The answer told to “just look at the video” and judge how free the doctors were. But Wikileaked cables from the US Embassy in Colombo say otherwise.
A US cable dated July 13, 2009 says that
“In a meeting with the Ambassador on May 20, the Defense Secretary indicated that it would probably not be safe to free the doctors until after passions had cooled. More recently a senior contact in the CID was demoted because he had worked to improve the detention conditions of the doctors and apparently had expressed too strong of a desire to improve their welfare… Credible local NGO sources have said the families were told the doctors may be released following such confessions and they may have had to videotape individual confessions for the president.”
Once after Inner City Press’ questions the session was called to a close, Inner City Press asked Silva why his government hasn’t responded to the Panel of Experts’ report. Kohona had argued that it is not a UN report, calling it the “Darusman” report for the chairman of the three person panel. Silva also said let the Sri Lankan Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission finish its work.
The LLRC is harshly criticized in a report set to be released in Geneva on September 7. But it appears that the Rajapaksa administration’s goal was to get its rebuttal video shown in the UN, while the underlying Killing Fields documentary was not shown in the UN, in what Rajapaksa supporters called a “victory.”