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LLRC shows the way

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) has, with its final report now in the public domain, made its critics including some international human rights groups that questioned its credibility, badmouthed some of its members, pooh-poohed its mission as a ruse and expected it to come out with a whitewash of the government so that they could justify their call for an international war crimes probe, eat their words. Equally, it has disappointed those who wanted it to echo the government’s views on the war.

The LLRC Commissioners deserve praise for their good work exuding professionalism.

Unlike the UN Secretary General’s advisory panel which took cover behind a wall of secrecy and hurriedly put together a report of sorts––which has been made out to be a UN document!––based on mere unsubstantiated allegations and LTTE propaganda, the LLRC has ensured transparency in the process of inquiry and presented both sides of the story complete with its observations and recommendations.

Most of the LLRC observations, however, are no revelations to those who were au fait with what really happened during the war. That Sri Lanka did not launch a war to kill civilians on the pretext of fighting terrorism is only too well known. Only the LTTE rump and Tiger sympathisers will seek to deny that fact. It had to fight a war that could not be avoided. Even India had failed to make the LTTE accept a political solution; having rejected out of hand President J. R. Jayewardene’s Provincial Councils, President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s offer of the entire Northern Province without elections for a period of ten years as well as her draft Constitution containing regional councils and finally federalism as envisaged in the Oslo Declaration during Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government, Prabhakaran drove a coach and six horses through a Norwegian-crafted, flawed CFA. He, in defiance of even the US and the EU, resumed hostilities unilaterally by assassinating Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar and killing security forces and police personnel with mine attacks. When the Tiger chief threw down the gauntlet by closing the Mavil Aru sluice gates depriving thousands of families of water, the government was left with no alternative but to pick it up. The rest is history.

As the LLRC has rightly said in its report (p 328) ‘protection of civilian life was a key factor in the formulation of a policy for carrying out military operations’. However, the Commission is of the opinion that there have been ‘specific episodes which warrant further investigation’. Pointing out that ‘there is a duty on the part of the State to ascertain more fully the circumstances under which such incidents could have occurred’, the LLRC urges the government to investigate any reported cases of deliberate attacks on civilians. “If investigations disclose the commission of any offences, appropriate legal action should be taken to prosecute/punish the offenders.” (p 335)

As for the controversial Channel 4 video, the Commission finds that there are ‘troubling technical and forensic questions of a serious nature that cast significant doubts about the authenticity of this video and the credibility of its contents’ but calls upon the government to ‘investigate it to establish the truth or otherwise of the allegations arising from the video footage’. (p 337) A detailed technical analysis of the video finds itself in the annexures.

The LLRC wants disappearances probed. As for the alleged shelling of hospitals, the Commission finds it difficult to pin the blame on either the military or the LTTE owing to the non-availability of primary evidence of a technical nature and for want of supportive civilian evidence sans equivocation (p 330).

The LLRC report contains observations and recommendations on a wide range of issues. It has stressed the need to protect journalists, safeguard freedom of expression and to legislate for ensuring right to information. Its recommendations on ridding the country of illegal arms and the restoration of the rule of law are of crucial importance. Its view that follow-up action should be taken on previous commission reports including the one on the killing of five students in Trincomalee and a group of ACF aid workers may not be to the liking of the government. People-centric devolution, the resettlement of the Muslims the LTTEdrove out of the North in 1990, the massacre of 600 policemen in the East, the establishment of a National Land Commission are among its recommendations. The government as well as all others desirous of bringing about national reconciliation should take cognisance of the LLRC’s observations and recommendations and act accordingly.

The LLRC’s contention that all political leaders should apologise to the people who have suffered due to the conflict has, no doubt, struck a responsible chord with all right thinking Sri Lankans. It is incumbent upon those politicians to put their heads together and find ways and means of clearing up the mess they themselves have made!

The reaction of the western powers to the LLRC report is not yet known. They are not likely to accept it because it is not supportive of the idea of an international war crimes probe they are obsessed with. If they really want to tame President Mahinda Rajapaksa for not being one of their puppets, let them be urged to try some other method, if at all; their war crimes witch hunt will only help the terrorist rump bent on avenging the decapitation of the LTTE, make a mockery of their campaign against global terrorism and, above all, jeopardise Sri Lanka’s fragile reconciliation process. Having promoted terrorism either wittingly or unwittingly by supporting a flawed ceasefire agreement weighted in favour of the LTTE, which made the most of it to launch the so-called Eelam War IV and plunge the country into a bloodbath, they have blood on their hands. They must also apologise to the victims of war and help this country with rebuilding, rehabilitation and reconciliation. That is the least they could do.

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